BACKGROUNDBHLHB5, an OLIG-related basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor, is required for the development of a subset of gamma-amino butyric acid-releasing (GABAergic) amacrine cells and OFF-cone bipolar (CB) cells in mouse retinas. In order to determine BHLHB5's functional mechanism in retinogenesis, we used the Cre-loxP recombination system to genetically trace the lineage of BHLHB5+ cells in normal and Bhlhb5-null retinas. The Bhlhb5-Cre knock-in allele was used to activate the constitutive expression of a GFP reporter in the Bhlhb5-expressing cells, and the cell fates of Bhlhb5-lineage cells were identified by using specific cell markers and were compared between normal and Bhlhb5-null retinas.RESULTSIn addition to GABAergic amacrine and OFF-CB cells, Bhlhb5 lineage cells give rise to ganglion, glycinergic amacrine, rod bipolar, ON-bipolar, and rod photoreceptor cells during normal retinal development. Targeted deletion of Bhlhb5 resulted in the loss of GABAergic amacrine, glycinergic amacrine, dopaminergic amacrine, and Type 2 OFF-CB cells. Furthermore, in the absence of BHLHB5, a portion of Bhlhb5 lineage cells switch their fate and differentiate into cholinergic amacrine cells.CONCLUSIONSOur data reveal a broad expression pattern of Bhlhb5 throughout retinogenesis and demonstrate the cell-autonomous as well as non-cell-autonomous role of Bhlhb5 in the specification of amacrine and bipolar subtypes.