The connections between cone photoreceptors and their postsynaptic targets, bipolar and horizontal cells (BCs and HCs), are the first synapses in the visual system. Neurotransmitter release from cones is regulated intrinsically, by light, and extrinsically, by feedback signals from HCs. Our long-term goal is to understand at a molecular level how these signals regulate release. Cone terminals contain a specialized structure called the synaptic ribbon. The ribbon binds synaptic vesicles and is thought to deliver them to the plasma membrane where they undergo Ca2+-dependent exocytosis. Our first specific aim is to understand the mechanism of synaptic vesicle delivery by the ribbon, and to evaluate the role of Ca2+ in regulating this process. We propose three steps in ribbon-mediated vesicle delivery: Vesicle binding to the ribbon, vesicle movement along the ribbon, and vesicle detachment from the ribbon. To address the first step, we will ask whether Rab3a, a vesicle- associated small G-protein, is responsible for the initial binding of synaptic vesicles to the ribbon. To address the second step, we will use fluorescent markers of synaptic vesicles to measure vesicle mobility on the ribbon with Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching (FRAP) and Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy (FCS). To address the third step, we will use electron microscopy to evaluate whether vesicles vacate the ribbon when Ca2+ is elevated in the cytoplasm. Finally, to better understand how Ca2+ might regulate these events, we will measure the Ca2+ profile along the ribbon with a novel "Ribbon-Associated Ca2+ Indicator" (RACI). Together, these experiments will help explain the fundamental events that control synaptic vesicle delivery in cones. Our second specific aim is to investigate the mechanisms of HC feedback onto cone terminals. Protons have been proposed to be the signal underlying HC negative feedback. We will measure the local pH at the cone synapse of zebrafish with pH-sensitive GFP (pHluorin). The pHluorin probe will be spliced onto synaptic proteins enabling high spatial resolution pH measurement at the very site of HC feedback. We will evaluate a second "ephaptic" hypothesis with "caged" glutamate receptor agonists to locally alter current flow into individual dendrites of HCs. Finally, we will explore a newly-discovered positive feedback system from HCs to cones, investigating the nature of the retrograde signal and determining its mechanism of action. These studies are important for three reasons: 1) they will improve our understanding of the fundamental processes underlying the first steps in seeing, 2) they may provide insights into the mechanisms and consequences of several blinding disorders, including Ushers Syndrome and autosomal dominant cone-rod dystrophy (CORD7), which are associated with disruptions in photoreceptor synapses, and 3) by elucidating normal mechanisms of synaptic information transfer in the retina, they may provide a clearer template for the design and programming of prosthetic devices for restoring vision to blind patients.

Public Health Relevance

In this project we will investigate how cone photoreceptors, the cells responsible for daytime vision, send information to other retinal neurons and ultimately to the brain, enabling us to see. Our first aim is to understand the fundamental molecular machinery that controls the release of neurotransmitter from cones. Our second aim is to understand how this machinery is regulated by feedback signals from other retinal neurons, increasing our ability to detect edges of objects. This project will provide fundamental information about the normal function of the retina. This information may be important for understanding blinding diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration, and will help provide a template for the design of prosthetic devices for restoring normal vision to blind patients.

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)
Program Officer
Greenwell, Thomas
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University of California Berkeley
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Wang, Tzu-Ming; Holzhausen, Lars C; Kramer, Richard H (2014) Imaging an optogenetic pH sensor reveals that protons mediate lateral inhibition in the retina. Nat Neurosci 17:262-8
Jackman, Skyler L; Babai, Norbert; Chambers, James J et al. (2011) A positive feedback synapse from retinal horizontal cells to cone photoreceptors. PLoS Biol 9:e1001057
Bartoletti, Theodore M; Jackman, Skyler L; Babai, Norbert et al. (2011) Release from the cone ribbon synapse under bright light conditions can be controlled by the opening of only a few Ca(2+) channels. J Neurophysiol 106:2922-35
Jackman, Skyler L; Choi, Sue-Yeon; Thoreson, Wallace B et al. (2009) Role of the synaptic ribbon in transmitting the cone light response. Nat Neurosci 12:303-10
Choi, Sue-Yeon; Jackman, Skyler; Thoreson, Wallace B et al. (2008) Light regulation of Ca2+ in the cone photoreceptor synaptic terminal. Vis Neurosci 25:693-700
Sheng, Zejuan; Choi, Sue-Yeon; Dharia, Ajay et al. (2007) Synaptic Ca2+ in darkness is lower in rods than cones, causing slower tonic release of vesicles. J Neurosci 27:5033-42
Choi, Sue-Yeon; Borghuis, Bart G; Borghuis, Bart et al. (2005) Encoding light intensity by the cone photoreceptor synapse. Neuron 48:555-62