Putting to rest years of controversy, an international research team led by Johns Hopkins scientists has discovered that the eye’s job of detecting light is most likely carried out by just three cell types.
Easy-to-detect tau-lacZ protein turns melanopsin-expressing cells in the retina of a mouse into blue beacons. The long blue strands are the cells axons, which head into the optic nerve and eventually end in parts of the brain that control the internal clock and the opening and closing of the pupil.
Writing in the June 15 advance online section of Nature, the team reports that rods, cones and special retinal cells that make a protein called melanopsin together account for the entirety of a mouse’s reaction to light levels. Others have proposed a role for cells that make proteins called cryptochromes, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for mice -- and probably not for man -- say the researchers.
"We’re fairly confident the rod/cone system and the melanopsin system are the mammalian eye’s only two systems for detecting light levels," says King-Wai Yau, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Institute for Basic Biomedical Science and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. "Never say never, but there’s no evidence for a third system right now."
Joanna Downer | EurekAlert!
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