Until now, it was widely believed that this step takes place in the retinal ganglion cells, the output neurons of the retina. Scientists in the lab of Thomas Euler at the University of Tübingen, the Werner Reichardt Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and the Bernstein Center Tübingen were now able to show that already bipolar cells can generate “digital” signals.
Image: Tom Baden, 2012
At least three types of mouse BC showed clear evidence of fast and stereotypic action potentials, so called “spikes”. These results show that the retina is by no means as well understood as is commonly believed.
The retina in our eyes is not just a sheet of light sensors that – like a camera chip – faithfully transmits patterns of light to the brain. Rather, it performs complex computations, extracting several features from the visual stimuli, e.g., whether the light intensity at a certain place increases or decreases, in which direction a light source moves or whether there is an edge in the image. To transmit this information reliably across the optic nerve - acting as a kind of a cable - to the brain, the retina reformats it into a succession of stereotypic action potentials – it “digitizes” it.
Classical textbook knowledge holds that this digital code – similar to the one employed by computers – is applied only in the retina’s ganglion cells, which send the information to the brain. Almost all other cells in the retina were believed to employ graded, analogue signals. But the Tübingen scientists could now show that, in mammals, already the bipolar cells, which are situated right after the photoreceptors within the retinal network, are able to work in a “digital mode” as well.
Using a new experimental technique, Tom Baden and colleagues recorded signals in the synaptic terminals of bipolar cells in the mouse retina. Based on the responses of these cells to simple light stimuli, they were able to separate the neurons into eight different response types. These types closely resembled those expected from physiological and anatomical studies. But surprisingly, the responses of the fastest cell types looked quite different than expected: they were fast, stereotypic and occurred in an all-or-nothing instead of a graded fashion. All these are typical features of action potentials.
Such “digital” signals had occasionally been observed in bipolar cells before, but these were believed to be rare exceptional cases. Studies from the past two years on the fish retina had already cast doubt on the long-held belief that BCs do not spike. The new data from Tübingen clearly show that these “digital” signals are systematically generated in certain types of mammalian bipolar cells. Action potentials allow for much faster and temporally more precise signal transmission than graded potentials, thus offering advantages in certain situations. The results from Tübingen call a widely held dogma of neuroscience into question - and open up many new questions.
The Bernstein Center Tübingen is part of the National Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience in Germany. With this funding initiative, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) supports the new discipline of Computational Neuroscience since 2004 with over 150 Mio. €. The network is named after the German physiologist Julius Bernstein (1835–1917).Text:
Contact:Dr. Tom Baden
Dr. Simone Cardoso de Oliveira | idw
Tissue-engineered colon from human cells develop different types of neurons
02.10.2015 | Children's Hospital Los Angeles
Big eyes! – MDC Researchers Identify Cause of Inherited Form of Extreme Nearsightedness
02.10.2015 | Max-Delbrück-Centrum für Molekulare Medizin in der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft
The Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will present how laser-based technologies can contribute to the laboratory of the future at the LABVOLUTION in Hannover in Hall 9, Stand E67/09, from October 6th to 8th, 2015. As a part of the model lab smartLAB, the LZH is showing how additive manufacturing, better known as 3-D printing, can make experimental setups more flexible.
Twelve partners from science and industry are presenting an intelligent and innovative model lab at the special display smartLAB. A part of this intelligent...
Before embarking on a transcontinental journey, jet airplanes fill up with tens of thousands of gallons of fuel. In the event of a crash, such large quantities of fuel increase the severity of an explosion upon impact.
Researchers at Caltech and JPL have discovered a polymeric fuel additive that can reduce the intensity of postimpact explosions that occur during accidents and...
When surgical residents need to practice a complicated procedure to fashion a new ear for children without one, they typically get a bar of soap, carrot or an apple.
To treat children with a missing or under-developed ear, experienced surgeons harvest pieces of rib cartilage from the child and carve them into the framework...
Walking an obstacle course on Earth is relatively easy. Walking an obstacle course on Earth after being in space for six months is not quite as simple. The...
01.10.2015 | Event News
30.09.2015 | Event News
17.09.2015 | Event News
02.10.2015 | Medical Engineering
02.10.2015 | Materials Sciences
02.10.2015 | Trade Fair News