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Subspecialties Neuro-ophthalmology, Retina

Bitesize Breakthroughs

1. Communication between the eye and the brain is clearly critical to our sense of sight. But the exact molecular mechanisms have been a source of speculation – until now. Using advanced mass spectrometry, a team at Scripps Research Institute has discovered how visual signals are distributed throughout the brain. The team identified upwards of 1,000 protein types that originate in the eye’s retinal ganglion cells. They then watched how – and where – they traveled via the optic nerve in a living brain of a rat. The team evaluated the two major targets: the superior colliculus, which analyzes motion, and the lateral geniculate nucleus, which sends information to the visual cortex. Researchers found that similar proteins didn’t always share a common destination, rather, many proteins were transported preferentially to one brain region, while some were transported to all of the regions studied. Though still in its infancy, the study expands accepted understanding of the visual system and, according to researchers, will hopefully lead to enhanced treatments in the future. Watch this space.

2. A collaboration between the University of Geneva and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne may have answered the most fundamental question in ophthalmology: how is the retina formed? Sequencing more than 6,000 cells during embryonic development, the researchers did more than just uncover how – and why – certain neurons become associated with certain parts of the visual system; by predicting the sequential activation of neural genes, the team were able to reconstruct several differentiation programs, similar to lineage trees, showing how the progenitors progress to one cell type or another after their last division. They then conducted a secondary analysis, comparing the genetic diversity of two neuron populations – those associated with the left and right eye – discovering 24 genes that could play a key role in three-dimensional vision. The team hopes to continue their research, explaining that the more we know about the molecules needed to appropriately guide axons, the more likely we are to develop a therapy to treat nerve trauma.

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About the Author

Phoebe Harkin

Associate Editor of The Ophthalmologist

I’ve always loved telling stories. So much so, I decided to make a job of it. I finished a Masters in Magazine Journalism and spent three years working as a creative copywriter before itchy feet sent me (back)packing. It took seven months and 13 countries, but I’m now happily settled on The Ophthalmologist, where I’m busy getting stuck into all things eyeballs.

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