Category Archives: Retinal Disease

A pathoconnectome of early neurodegeneration: Network changes in retinal degeneration

We have a new manuscript out in Experimental Eye Research, A pathoconnectome of early neurodegeneration: Network changes in retinal degeneration. (pdf here)

Authors: Rebecca L. Pfeiffer @BeccaPfeiffer19, James R. Anderson, Jeebika Dahal, Jessica C. Garcia, Jia-Hui Yang, Crystal L. Sigulinsky @CLSigulinsky, Kevin Rapp, Daniel P. Emrich, Carl B. Watt, Hope AB Johnstun, Alexis R. Houser, Robert E. Marc @robertmarc60, and Bryan W. Jones @BWJones.

Abstract: Connectomics has demonstrated that synaptic networks and their topologies are precise and directly correlate with physiology and behavior. The next extension of connectomics is pathoconnectomics: to map neural network synaptology and circuit topologies corrupted by neurological disease in order to identify robust targets for therapeutics. In this report, we characterize a pathoconnectome of early retinal degeneration. This pathoconnectome was generated using serial section transmission electron microscopy to achieve an ultrastructural connectome with 2.18nm/px resolution for accurate identification of all chemical and gap junctional synapses. We observe aberrant connectivity in the rod-network pathway and novel synaptic connections deriving from neurite sprouting. These observations reveal principles of neuron responses to the loss of network components and can be extended to other neurodegenerative diseases.


NeuroNex Grant

I am pleased to report that the The Marclab for Connectomics has been funded by the National Science Foundation with a 5 year grant as part of a large, international consortium to study synaptic weighting.  We are collaborating with the Erik Jorgensen laboratory here at the University of Utah, and will be exploring synapses in a model of retinal degeneration.  There is a nice writeup of the award on the Moran Eye Center website, here.

This is a wonderful opportunity to work with other colleagues that will be funded alongside us with this grant, including Uri Manor @manorlaboratory, Davi Bock @dddavi, Josh Vogelstein @neuro_data, Viren Jain @stardazed0, and others.  My thanks to Kristen Harris for heading up this initiative.

Müller Cell Metabolic Signatures: Evolutionary Conservation and Disruption in Disease

We have a new manuscript out in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, Müller Cell Metabolic Signatures: Evolutionary Conservation and Disruption in Disease.

Authors: Rebecca L. Pfeiffer @BeccaPfeiffer19, Robert E. Marc @robertmarc60, and Bryan William Jones @BWJones.

This manuscript functions as both a review and presents some exciting new data demonstrating how the glutamate cycle is disrupted during retinal degenerative disease.

Abstract: Müller cells are glia that play important regulatory roles in retinal metabolism. These roles have been evolutionarily conserved across at least 300 million years. Müller cells have a tightly locked metabolic signature in the healthy retina, which rapidly degrades in response to insult and disease. This variation in metabolic signature occurs in a chaotic fashion, involving some central metabolic pathways. The cause of this divergence of Müller cells, from a single class with a unique metabolic signature to numerous separable metabolic classes, is currently unknown and illuminates potential alternative metabolic pathways that may be revealed in disease. Understanding the impacts of this heterogeneity on degenerate retinas and the implications for the metabolic support of surrounding neurons will be critical to long-term integration of retinal therapeutics for the restoration of visual perception following photoreceptor degeneration.

Pathoconnectome Analysis of Müller Cells in Early Retinal Remodeling

We have a new manuscript out in Clinical Neurophysiology, An Update on Retinal Prostheses. PubMedDirect Link PDF here.

Authors: Rebecca L Pfeiffer, James R Anderson, Daniel P Emrich, Jeebika Dahal, Crystal L Sigulinsky, Hope AB Morrison, Jia-Hui Yang, Carl B Watt, Kevin D Rapp, Mineo Kondo, Hiroko Terasaki, Jessica C Garcia, Robert E Marc, and Bryan W Jones.

Abstract: Glia play important roles in neural function, including but not limited to amino acid recycling, ion homeostasis, glucose metabolism, and waste removal. During retinal degeneration and subsequent retinal remodeling, Müller cells (MCs) are the first cells to show metabolic and morphological alterations in response to stress. Metabolic alterations in MCs chaotically progress in retina undergoing photoreceptor degeneration; however, what relationship these alterations have with neuronal stress, synapse maintenance, or glia-glia interactions is currently unknown. The work described here reconstructs a MC from a pathoconnectome of early retinalremodeling retinalpathoconnectome 1 (RPC1) and explores relationships between MC structural and metabolic phenotypes in the context of neighboring neurons and glia. Here we find variations in intensity of osmication inter- and intracellularly, variation in small molecule metabolic content of MCs, as well as morphological alterations of glial endfeet. RPC1 provides a framework to analyze these relationships in early retinal remodeling through ultrastructural reconstructions of both neurons and glia. These reconstructions, informed by quantitative metabolite labeling via computational molecular phenotyping (CMP), allow us to evaluate neural-glial interactions in early retinal degeneration with unprecedented resolution and sensitivity.



Persistent Remodeling And Neurodegeneration In Late-Stage Retinal Degeneration

We have a new manuscript out in Progress In Retinal And Eye Research, Persistent Remodeling And Neurodegeneration In Late-Stage Retinal Degeneration.

Authors: Rebecca L. Pfeiffer, Robert E. Marc, and Bryan William Jones.

I’m really proud of the work that Becca did on this manuscript.  It does a couple of important things including summarizing the field of retinal remodeling, but also introducing some new data that plants a flag to define retinal degeneration and retinal remodeling as the first steps in what becomes progressive neurodegeneration.  We view the retina as an excellent model to begin exploring diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other progressive neurodegenerative diseases.  In addition, Becca also demonstrates a new potential mechanism for misfolded proteins, that may point the way for how proteinopathies spread.

Abstract: Retinal remodeling is a progressive series of negative plasticity revisions that arise from retinal degeneration, and are seen in retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration and other forms of retinal disease. These processes occur regardless of the precipitating event leading to degeneration. Retinal remodeling then culminates in a late-stage neurodegeneration that is indistinguishable from progressive central nervous system (CNS) proteinopathies. Following long-term deafferentation from photoreceptor cell death in humans, and long-lived animal models of retinal degeneration, most retinal neurons reprogram, then die. Glial cells reprogram into multiple anomalous metabolic phenotypes. At the same time, survivor neurons display degenerative inclusions that appear identical to progressive CNS neurodegenerative disease, and contain aberrant α-synuclein (α-syn) and phosphorylated α-syn. In addition, ultrastructural analysis indicates a novel potential mechanism for misfolded protein transfer that may explain how proteinopathies spread. While neurodegeneration poses a barrier to prospective retinal interventions that target primary photoreceptor loss, understanding the progression and time-course of retinal remodeling will be essential for the establishment of windows of therapeutic intervention and appropriate tuning and design of interventions. Finally, the development of protein aggregates and widespread neurodegeneration in numerous retinal degenerative diseases positions the retina as a ideal platform for the study of proteinopathies, and mechanisms of neurodegeneration that drive devastating CNS diseases.

Coupling Architecture Of The AII/ON Cone Bipolar Cell Network In Degenerate Retina

This abstract was presented today, April 8th at the 2019 Association for Research in Vision and Opthalmology (ARVO) meetings in Vancouver, Canada as a platform presentation by Crystal L. Sigulinsky, Rebecca L. PfeifferJames R. Anderson, Daniel P. Emrich, Christopher Rapp, Jeebika Dahal, Jessica Garcia, Hope Morrison, Kevin D. Rapp, Jia-Hui Yang, Carl B. Watt, Robert E. Marc and Bryan W. Jones.

In mouse models of retinal degeneration, connexin36-containing gap junctions in the Aii amacrine cell network appear to mediate aberrant hyperactivity within the retina. However, it remains unclear whether this hyperactivity reflects changes in the underlying circuitry or dysfunction of the normative circuitry. Our connectomics-based mapping of retinal circuitry in rabbit Retinal Connectome 1 (RC1) has dramatically expanded the coupled Aii network. In addition to canonical Aii-to-Aii and Aii-to-ON cone bipolar cell (CBC) coupling, we describe pervasive in- and cross-class coupling motifs among ON CBCs. This study examines the changes in these coupling motifs in RPC1, an ultrastructural retinal pathoconnectome from a rabbit model of retinitis pigmentosa.

RC1 and RPC1 are connectomes built by automated transmission electron microscopy at ultrastructural (2 nm/pixel) resolution. RC1 is a 0.25 mm diameter volume of retina from a 13 month old, light-adapted female Dutch Belted rabbit and serves as the healthy reference connectome. RPC1 is a 0.09 mm diameter volume of pathological retina from a 10 month old, male transgenic P347L model of autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa showing early phase 1 retinal remodeling, when rod photoreceptors are still present, but stressed. ON CBCs, Aii amacrine cells, and their coupling partners were annotated using the Viking application. Coupling motifs and features were explored with 3D rendering and graph visualization of connectivity. Gap junctions were validated by 0.25 nm resolution recapture with goniometric tilt when necessary.

All major coupling motifs were observed. Several ON CBC classes retained their class-specific coupling profiles, accepting and rejecting specific combinations of Aii and ON CBC class partnerships. However, aberrant partnerships exist in the coupled network, including both loss of prominent motifs and acquisition of novel ones.

Clearly aberrant morphological and synaptic changes exist in RPC1, including changes in the coupling specificity and gap junction distributions of both Aii amacrine cells and ON CBCs. This indicates that the Aii/ON CBC circuit topology is already altered during early phase 1 remodeling, with substantial implications for therapeutic interventions for blinding diseases that depend upon the surviving retinal network in human patients.

Aii Amacrine Cell Connectivity in Degenerating Retina

This abstract was presented today, April 8th at the 2019 Association for Research in Vision and Opthalmology (ARVO) meetings in Vancouver, Canada by Jeebika Dahal, Rebecca L. Pfeiffer, Crystal L. Sigulinsky, James R. Anderson, Daniel P. Emrich, Hope Morrison, Jessica C. Garcia, Kevin D. Rapp, Jia-Hui Yang, Carl B. Watt, Mineo Kondo, Hiroko Terasaki, Robert E. Marc and Bryan W. Jones.

Full resolution version here.

Aii amacrine cells (Aii ACs) function in mediating scotopic vision via connection of rod bipolar cells (Rod BCs) to cone bipolar cell pathways. The purpose of this project is to determine the effect of retinal degeneration (RD) on Aii AC networks. We explore this in a pathoconnectome of early RD (RPC1), using a connectome of healthy retina (RC1) as control. Cells in each volume are evaluated by comparison of morphology, synaptic connectivity, and eventually network analysis.

Tissue for RPC1 was collected from a 10 month old transgenic p347L rabbit model of autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa. RC1 was collected from a 13 month old Dutch-Belted rabbit, with no indications of degeneration. Tissue was fixed in a mixed aldehyde solution, before subsequent dehydration, osmication, and resin embedding. Volumes were sectioned at 70nm (RPC1) and 90nm (RC1) and placed on formvar grids. 1 section was reserved from every 30 TEM sections for computational molecular phenotyping where it was placed on a slide and probed for small molecules or proteins. TEM sections were captured at 2.18nm/px using SerialEM software on a JEOL JEM-1400 TEM. The RC1 volume has a diameter of 250µm and RPC1 has a diameter of 90µm. Both volumes were analyzed using the Viking software suite.

In this study, Aii ACs from RPC1 were compared to RC1. Initial results indicate no distinct difference in the morphology other than arbor size, which are likely due to eccentricity differences between volumes. However, in RPC1, we observe multiple instances of Aii AC coupling with Rod BCs in the ON region of the IPL. In contrast, Rod BCs never form gap junctions in healthy retina.

Coupling between Aii ACs and Rod BCs in RPC1 is a unique change in retinal network topology occurring in early RD. Further exploration of network changes as a response to RD is warranted, as many therapeutic interventions currently in development rely upon maintenance of inner retinal circuitry. Prior research demonstrates Rod BCs extend dendrites towards cones and change their receptor expression as rods degenerate. Therefore, knowing the network changes involving Aii ACs and their associations with bipolar cells is crucial to understanding how photoreceptor degeneration affects inner retinal visual processing.

OFF-layer Branches of ON Cone Bipolar Cells in Early Retinal Degeneration

This abstract was presented today, April 8th at the 2019 Association for Research in Vision and Opthalmology (ARVO) meetings in Vancouver, Canada by Jessica C. Garcia, Rebecca L. Pfeiffer, Crystal L. Sigulinsky, James R. Anderson, Daniel P. Emrich, Jeebika Dahal, Hope Morrison, Kevin D. Rapp, Jia-Hui Yang, Carl B. Watt, Mineo Kondo, Hiroko Terasaki, Robert E. Marc and Bryan W. Jones.

Full resolution version here.

Purpose: Cone bipolar cells are customarily classified into superclasses of ON (ON-BCs) and OFF (OFF-BCs). ON or OFF specialization is further segregated by stratification within the inner plexiform layer. Retinal degeneration induces negative plasticity termed remodeling, that includes aberrant neurite extension from multiple cell types (rewiring) and ON-BCs switching their glutamate receptors to match that of OFF-BCs (reprogramming). Previous analysis in healthy retina shows that ON-BCs can make small ribbon synapses in the descending axon or, less frequently, simple single branch projections in the OFF layer. What impact remodeling has on these OFF-layer branches is unknown. In this study, we compare OFF branches from ON-BCs in a connectome of early retinal degeneration (RPC1) to our healthy retinal connectome (RC1).

Methods: Retinal tissues selected for RC1 and RPC1 were collected post-mortem from a 13 month old Dutch-belted healthy female rabbit and a male 10 month old transgenic P347L rabbit model of autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa, respectively. RPC1 shows signs of remodeling including rod outer-segment degeneration and aberrant neurite extension. Tissues were fixed in mixed aldehydes and subsequently osmicated, dehydrated, resin embedded, and sectioned at 90 nm (RC1) or 70 nm (RPC1). Sections were placed on formvar grids, stained, and imaged at 2nm/px on a JEOL JEM-1400 TEM using SerialEM software. 1 section was reserved from every 30 for Computational Molecular Phenotyping, and probed for small molecules. Both volumes were evaluated using the Viking software suite.

Results: Ribbons of ON-BCs formed in the OFF layer branches have been previously described to contact glycinergic amacrine cells (ACs), GABAergic ACs, ON ganglion cells, and intrinsically photosensitive ganglion cells. Initial analysis of OFF branches of ON-BCs in RPC1 demonstrate more complex branching than in RC1 and increased number of synapses on these branches. In contrast to the inconsistent OFF layer branch stratification observed in RC1, the OFF branches in RPC1 appear to stratify at a similar level. Evaluation of synaptic partners is ongoing.

Conclusions: Increased complexity and number of synapses found in the OFF branches of some ON-BCs ultimately may represent ON network corruption. Exploring synaptic partners will reveal potential network alterations in retinal degenerative disease.

Rod Bipolar Cell Networks In A Retinal Pathoconnectome

We presented a poster on Rod Bipolar Cell Networks In A Retinal Pathoconnectome at the 2019 HHMI Connectomics meeting in Berlin today. Downsampled PDF of poster here.

Authors: Rebecca L. Pfeiffer, James R. Anderson, Daniel P. Emrich, Jeebika Dahal, Crystal L. Sigulinsky, Jia-Hui Yang, Kevin D. Rapp, Carl B. Watt, Jessica C. Garcia, Mineo Kondo, Hiroko Terasaki, Robert E. Marc, and Bryan W. Jones.

Abstract: Ultrastructural connectomics has allowed for precise identification of neural network topologies in retina, exposing synaptic connectivity associated with specific pathways involved in neural retinal processing. In pathological degenerate retina such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP), retinal remodeling emerges as a phenomenon through a series of negative plasticity events originating from neural deafferentation initiated by photoreceptor degeneration. Early stages of remodeling include glial changes, GluR receptor alterations (reprogramming), and rewiring of retinal networks. The connectivities initiated by these processes are currently unknown. To address this problem, we have created an ultrastructural pathoconnnectome of early retinal remodeling in a rabbit model of retinitis pigmentosa, Retinal Pathoconnectome 1 (RPC1).

Rod Bipolar Cell Networks in Early Retinal Remodeling

Rebecca Pfeiffer, a post-doc in the laboratory presented her work on “Rod Bipolar Cell Networks in Early Retinal Remodeling” as a platform presentation at the ISER 2018 meeting in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Authors: Rebecca Pfeiffer, James R. Anderson, Daniel P. Emrich, Jeebika Dahal, Crystal L Sigulinsky, Hope AB Morrison, Jia-Hui Yang, Carl B. Watt, Kevin D. Rapp, Jessica C Garcia, Mineo Kondo, Hiroko Terasaki, Robert E. Marc, and Bryan W. Jones.

Abstract: Retinal remodeling is a form of negative plasticity that occurs as a consequence of retinal degenerative diseases. Part of retinal remodeling involves anomalous sprouting of processes, termed neurites. The synaptic structures and partners of the neurites are not yet defined, leading to uncertainty about the consistency of network motifs between healthy and degenerate retina. Our goal is to map out the identities and network relationships of bipolar cell networks using a connectomics strategy. Retinal connectomes or ultrastructural maps of neuronal connectivity have substantially contributed to our understanding of retinal network topology, providing ground truth against which pathological network topologies can be evaluated. We have generated the first pathoconnectome (RPC1), or connectome of pathological tissues, of early retinal remodeling at 2nm/pixel, and are currently investigating the impact of remodeling on network architecture.
The tissue for RPC1 was obtained from a 10mo transgenic P347L rabbit model of autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa. Tissue was fixed in mixed aldehydes, osmicated, dehydrated, embedded in epon resin, and sectioned at 70nm. Serial sections were placed on grids, stained, and imaged using a JEOL JEM-1400 TEM using SerialEM software. Every 30th section was reserved for computational molecular phenotyping (CMP), and probed for small molecules: glutamate, glutamine, glycine, GABA, taurine, glutathione; or TEM compatible proteins GFAP and GS. The pathoconnectome volume is explored and annotated using the Viking software suite.
RPC1 was selected as an example of early retinal remodeling, demonstrating Muller cell hypertrophy, metabolic dysregulation, and degeneration of rod outer segments, indicating phase 1 remodeling and neuronal sprouting. We have observed the presence of both cone pedicles and rod spherules within the OPL to be synaptically active with neurites from some rod bipolar cells forming functional synapses with both rod spherules and cone pedicles. These rod bipolar cells also exhibit structurally altered ribbon synapses. We are currently evaluating network motifs and comparing them to networks established from our previous connectome, RC1, generated from a healthy rabbit.
These findings allow us to evaluate and analyze the impact of retinal remodeling on retinal networks which may have important implications for therapeutic interventions being developed which rely on inner retina network integrity.