For the first time, scientists have shown that transplanted eyes located far outside the head in a vertebrate animal model can confer vision without a direct neural connection to the brain.
Images courtesy of D. Blackiston and M. Levin
Researchers at Tufts University have shown that transplanted eyes located far outside the head in a vertebrate animal model can confer vision without a direct neural connection to the brain. In this image, a "blind" tadpole without its native (normal) eyes is able to see using a functioning ectopic eye located in tail. Dark area in midsection is the stomach.
Biologists at Tufts University School of Arts and Sciences used a frog model to shed new light – literally – on one of the major questions in regenerative medicine, bioengineering, and sensory augmentation research.
"One of the big challenges is to understand how the brain and body adapt to large changes in organization," says Douglas J. Blackiston, Ph.D., first author of the paper "Ectopic Eyes Outside the Head in Xenopus Tadpoles Provide Sensory Data For Light-Mediated Learning," in the February 27 issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology. "Here, our research reveals the brain's remarkable ability, or plasticity, to process visual data coming from misplaced eyes, even when they are located far from the head.”
Blackiston is a post-doctoral associate in the laboratory of co-author Michael Levin, Ph.D., professor of biology and director of the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts University.
Levin notes, "A primary goal in medicine is to one day be able to restore the function of damaged or missing sensory structures through the use of biological or artificial replacement components. There are many implications of this study, but the primary one from a medical standpoint is that we may not need to make specific connections to the brain when treating sensory disorders such as blindness."
In this experiment, the team surgically removed donor embryo eye primordia, marked with fluorescent proteins, and grafted them into the posterior region of recipient embryos. This induced the growth of ectopic eyes. The recipients’ natural eyes were removed, leaving only the ectopic eyes.
Fluorescence microscopy revealed various innervation patterns but none of the animals developed nerves that connected the ectopic eyes to the brain or cranial region.
To determine if the ectopic eyes conveyed visual information, the team developed a computer-controlled visual training system in which quadrants of water were illuminated by either red or blue LED lights. The system could administer a mild electric shock to tadpoles swimming in a particular quadrant. A motion tracking system outfitted with a camera and a computer program allowed the scientists to monitor and record the tadpoles' motion and speed.
Eyes See Without Wiring to Brain
The team made exciting discoveries: Just over 19 percent of the animals with optic nerves that connected to the spine demonstrated learned responses to the lights. They swam away from the red light while the blue light stimulated natural movement.
Their response to the lights elicited during the experiments was no different from that of a control group of tadpoles with natural eyes intact. Furthermore, this response was not demonstrated by eyeless tadpoles or tadpoles that did not receive any electrical shock."This has never been shown before," says Levin. "No one would have guessed that eyes on the flank of a tadpole could see, especially when wired only to the spinal cord and not the brain."
The findings suggest a remarkable plasticity in the brain’s ability to incorporate signals from various body regions into behavioral programs that had evolved with a specific and different body plan.
"Ectopic eyes performed visual function," says Blackiston. "The brain recognized visual data from eyes that impinged on the spinal cord. We still need to determine if this plasticity in vertebrate brains extends to different ectopic organs or organs appropriate in different species."
One of the most fascinating areas for future investigation, according to Blackiston and Levin, is the question of exactly how the brain recognizes that the electrical signals coming from tissue near the gut is to be interpreted as visual data.
In computer engineering, notes Levin, who majored in computer science and biology as a Tufts undergraduate, this problem is usually solved by a "header"—a piece of metadata attached to a packet of information that indicates its source and type. Whether electric signals from eyes impinging on the spinal cord carry such an identifier of their origin remains a hypothesis to be tested.
Research reported in this publication was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health under award number MH081842-02 and the National Eye Institute, also of the NIH, under award number EY018168, and the Forsyth Institute, under award number 5T32DE007327-09.
Additional funders were the Leila Y. Mathers Charitable Foundation and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC, award W81XWH-10-2-0058).
Blackiston, B. J. and Levin, M. (2013). Ectopic eyes outside the head in Xenopus tadpoles provide sensory data for light-mediated learning. J. Exp. Biol. 216, 1031-1040.
Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.
Alex Reid | Newswise
Bacteria as pacemaker for the intestine
22.11.2017 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Researchers identify how bacterium survives in oxygen-poor environments
22.11.2017 | Columbia University
The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.
Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
22.11.2017 | Business and Finance
22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy