Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New microscope decodes complex eye circuitry

10.03.2011
Retinal ganglion cells can recognise directions thanks to amacrine cells

The properties of optical stimuli need to be conveyed from the eye to the brain. To do this efficiently, the relevant information is extracted by pre-processing in the eye.


Cells and synapses reconstructed from serial block face electron microscopy data. A single starburst amacrine cell (yellow, note synaptic varicosities) and two direction-selective ganglion cells (green). Even though there is substantial dendritic overlap with both cells, all connections (magenta) go to the right ganglion cell. © Kevin Briggman

For example, some of the so-called retinal ganglion cells, which transmit visual information to the brain via the optic nerve, only react to light stimuli moving in a particular direction. This direction selectivity is generated by inhibitory interneurons that influence the activity of the ganglion cells through their synapses. Using a novel microscopy method developed at the Institute, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg have now discovered that the distribution of the synapses between ganglion cells and interneurons follows highly specific rules. Only those dendrites that extend from the cell body of the amacrine cell in a direction opposite to the preferred direction of the ganglion cell connect with the ganglion cell.

The sensory cells in the retina of the mammalian eye convert light stimuli into electrical signals and transmit them via downstream interneurons to the retinal ganglion cells which, in turn, forward them to the brain. The interneurons are connected to each other in such a way that the individual ganglion cells receive visual information from a circular area of the visual field known as the receptive field. Some ganglion cells are only activated, for example, when light falls on the centre of their receptive fields and the edge remains dark (ON cells). The opposite is the case for other ganglion cells (OFF cells). And there are also ganglion cells that are activated by light that sweeps across their receptive fields in a particular direction; motion in the opposite (null-) direction inhibits activation.

Starburst amacrine cells, which modulate the activity of the ganglion cells through inhibitory synaptic connections, play an important role in this direction selectivity. The same research group at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg demonstrated a number of years ago that starburst amacrine cells are activated by moving stimuli. Each branch in the circular dendrite tree reacts preferentially to stimuli that move away from the cell body; movements in the opposite direction, towards the cell body, inhibit its activity. In the central area around the cell body dendrites function only as receivers of synaptic signals, while the dendrites on the periphery act as transmitters as well – and, therefore, double as axons. Whether these dendrites cause the direction selectivity in the ganglion cells or whether the ganglion cells “compute” it using other signals was unclear up to now.

Max Planck researchers Kevin Briggman, Moritz Helmstaedter and Winfried Denk have now discovered that, although the cells themselves are symmetrical, the synapses between retinal ganglion cells and starburst amacrine cells are distributed asymmetrically: seen from the ganglion cell, the starburst cell dendrites connected with it run in the direction opposite to the preferred direction of motion. “Ganglion cells prefer amacrine-cell dendrites that run along the null-direction,” says Winfried Denk.

According to previous studies by Winfried Denk and his research group, the electrical characteristics of the dendrites, which emerge starlike from the cell bodies of amacrine cells, play a crucial role here. The further they are located from the centre of the cell toward the edge, the easier they are to excite; therefore, stimuli are transmitted preferentially in this direction. This mechanism does not require but is helped by inhibitory influences between neighbouring amacrine cells, known as lateral inhibition. “A ganglion cell can thus differentiate between movements from different directions simply by making connections with certain starburst amacrine cell dendrites - namely those that prevent activation of the ganglion cell in null-direction through their inhibitory synapses. These are precisely the amacrine cell dendrites that run along this direction,” explains Winfried Denk.

Functional and structural analysis

This discovery was made possible by combining two different microscopy methods. The scientists succeeded, first, in determining the preferred motion direction of the ganglion cells using a two-photon fluorescence microscope. A calcium-sensitive fluorescent dye indicated in response to which stimuli calcium flows into the cells - a process that signals electrical activity in cells.

They then measured the exact trajectory of all of the dendrites of these ganglion cells and those of connected amacrine cells with the help of a new electron microscopy method known as serial block face electron microscopy. This process enabled them to produce a volumetric image by repeatedly scanning the surface of a tissue sample using the electron beam of a scanning electron microscope. A thin “slice” is shaved off the sample surface after each scan is complete, using an extremely sharp diamond knife. These slices are thinner than 25 nanometers, just about one thousandth of the thickness of a human hair.

The high three-dimensional resolution of this method enabled the scientists to trace the fine, densely packed branched dendrites of retinal neurons and clearly identify the synapses between them. The complete automation of the imaging process enables them to record data sets with thousands and even tens of thousands of sections “while on holiday or attending a conference,” says Winfried Denk. “For the first time, minute cell structures can now be viewed at a high resolution in larger chunks of tissue. This procedure will also play an indispensable role in the clarification of the circuit patterns of all regions of the nervous system in the future.”

Contact
Prof. Dr. Winfried Denk
Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Heidelberg
Phone: +49 6221 486-335
Fax: +49 6221 486-325
Email: denk@mpimf-heidelberg.mpg.de
Publication reference
Kevin L Briggman, Moritz Helmstaedter, Winfried Denk
Wiring specificity in the direction-selectivity circuit of the retina
Nature, March 10 2011

Prof. Dr. Winfried Denk | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mpg.de
http://www.mpg.de/1200127/direction_selective_ganglion_cells

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht 'Living bandages': NUST MISIS scientists develop biocompatible anti-burn nanofibers
16.02.2018 | National University of Science and Technology MISIS

nachricht New process allows tailor-made malaria research
16.02.2018 | Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

Im Focus: Autonomous 3D scanner supports individual manufacturing processes

Let’s say the armrest is broken in your vintage car. As things stand, you would need a lot of luck and persistence to find the right spare part. But in the world of Industrie 4.0 and production with batch sizes of one, you can simply scan the armrest and print it out. This is made possible by the first ever 3D scanner capable of working autonomously and in real time. The autonomous scanning system will be on display at the Hannover Messe Preview on February 6 and at the Hannover Messe proper from April 23 to 27, 2018 (Hall 6, Booth A30).

Part of the charm of vintage cars is that they stopped making them long ago, so it is special when you do see one out on the roads. If something breaks or...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Fingerprints of quantum entanglement

16.02.2018 | Information Technology

'Living bandages': NUST MISIS scientists develop biocompatible anti-burn nanofibers

16.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Hubble sees Neptune's mysterious shrinking storm

16.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>