Photoreceptors transmit their light responses across the first synapse in the retina by regulating the continuous release of glutamate-containing vesicles. The mechanisms by which light-evoked changes in membrane potential regulate synaptic transmission from photoreceptors are not well understood. We propose experiments to analyze the biophysical mechanisms of release from photoreceptors. Synaptic release from photoreceptors involves both fast transient and slow sustained components of release. Sustained release is important for shaping post-synaptic responses to slow changes in illumination and transient release contributes more to responses at abrupt light offset.
In Aim 1, we test whether sustained and transient components of release are both due to release from the synaptic ribbon or whether non-ribbon synaptic release sites are also involved.
In Aim 2, we determine how voltage-dependent changes in release probability, the size of the releasable pool of vesicles, and the rate of vesicle replenishment interact to shape sustained and transient post-synaptic responses to light and dark at the cone synapse.
In Aim 3, we test whether quantal synaptic currents evoked by release of individual synaptic vesicles are regulated by changes in cytosolic glutamate levels at the cone synapse. Understanding the mechanisms of synaptic release from photoreceptors is important for understanding basic mechanisms of vision and how vision is disrupted by mutations in synaptic proteins or mis-regulation of glutamate release. Understanding normal retinal physiology is also important for designing therapies to restore normal retinal function to diseased eyes using retinal stem cells or prosthetic devices.

Public Health Relevance

This project studies the mechanisms by which visual signals are transmitted to downstream neurons at the first synapse in the retina. In addition to providing a better understanding of early visual processing by the retina, understanding the mechanisms by which rod and cone photoreceptors release the neurotransmitter glutamate is necessary to understand how mutations in synaptic proteins or mis-regulation of glutamate release lead to eye disease and vision loss. An understanding of normal retinal physiology is also needed for restoring vision to diseased eyes by the use of retinal stem cells, prosthetic devices, or other means.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Eye Institute (NEI)
Research Project (R01)
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Biology and Diseases of the Posterior Eye Study Section (BDPE)
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Greenwell, Thomas
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University of Nebraska Medical Center
Schools of Medicine
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Grassmeyer, Justin J; Thoreson, Wallace B (2017) Synaptic Ribbon Active Zones in Cone Photoreceptors Operate Independently from One Another. Front Cell Neurosci 11:198
Datta, Proleta; Gilliam, Jared; Thoreson, Wallace B et al. (2017) Two Pools of Vesicles Associated with Synaptic Ribbons Are Molecularly Prepared for Release. Biophys J 113:2281-2298
Van Hook, Matthew J; Babai, Norbert; Zurawski, Zack et al. (2017) A Presynaptic Group III mGluR Recruits G??/SNARE Interactions to Inhibit Synaptic Transmission by Cone Photoreceptors in the Vertebrate Retina. J Neurosci 37:4618-4634
Warren, Ted J; Van Hook, Matthew J; Supuran, Claudiu T et al. (2016) Sources of protons and a role for bicarbonate in inhibitory feedback from horizontal cells to cones in Ambystoma tigrinum retina. J Physiol 594:6661-6677
Thoreson, Wallace B; Van Hook, Matthew J; Parmelee, Caitlyn et al. (2016) Modeling and measurement of vesicle pools at the cone ribbon synapse: Changes in release probability are solely responsible for voltage-dependent changes in release. Synapse 70:1-14
Cork, Karlene M; Van Hook, Matthew J; Thoreson, Wallace B (2016) Mechanisms, pools, and sites of spontaneous vesicle release at synapses of rod and cone photoreceptors. Eur J Neurosci 44:2015-27
Grishchuk, Yulia; Stember, Katherine G; Matsunaga, Aya et al. (2016) Retinal Dystrophy and Optic Nerve Pathology in the Mouse Model of Mucolipidosis IV. Am J Pathol 186:199-209
Warren, Ted J; Van Hook, Matthew J; Tranchina, Daniel et al. (2016) Kinetics of Inhibitory Feedback from Horizontal Cells to Photoreceptors: Implications for an Ephaptic Mechanism. J Neurosci 36:10075-88
Chen, Minghui; Van Hook, Matthew J; Thoreson, Wallace B (2015) Ca2+ Diffusion through Endoplasmic Reticulum Supports Elevated Intraterminal Ca2+ Levels Needed to Sustain Synaptic Release from Rods in Darkness. J Neurosci 35:11364-73
Van Hook, Matthew J; Thoreson, Wallace B (2015) Weak endogenous Ca2+ buffering supports sustained synaptic transmission by distinct mechanisms in rod and cone photoreceptors in salamander retina. Physiol Rep 3:

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