Tag Archives: Carl B. Watt

A Pathoconnectome of Early Retinal Remodeling

This abstract was presented today, Monday, April 30th at the 2018 Association for Research in Vision and Opthalmology (ARVO) meetings in Honolulu, Hawaii by Rebecca Pfeiffer, Robert E. Marc, James R. Anderson, Daniel P. Emrich, Carl B. Watt, Jia-Hui Yang, Kevin D. Rapp, Jeebika Dahal, Mineo Kondo, Hiroko Terasaki, and Bryan W. Jones.

Retinal remodeling is a consequence of retinal degenerative disease, during which neurons sprout new neurites whose synaptic structures and partners are not yet defined. Simultaneously during remodeling, Müller cells (MCs) undergo structural and metabolic changes, whose impact on surrounding neurons is an active area of research. Retinal connectomes have elucidated and validated fundamental networks. These data provide further classification of neuronal types and subtypes and a precise framework for modeling of retinal function, based on ground truth networks. The creation of the first pathoconnectome (RPC1), a connectome from pathological retinal tissue, provides the opportunity to determine connectivites between neurons, while simultaneously evaluating glial remodeling. Computational Molecular Phenotyping (CMP) embedded within the ultrastructure provides metabolic factors of pathologies.

RPC1 was collected post-mortem from a 10mo TgP347L rabbit model of adRP, fixed in 1% FA, 2.5% GA, 3% sucrose, and 1mM MgSO4 in cacodylate buffer (pH 7.4). The tissue was osmicated, dehydrated, resin embedded, and sectioned at 70nm. Sections were placed on formvar grids, stained, and imaged on a JEOL JEM-1400 TEM using SerialEM. 1 section was reserved from every 30 section for CMP, where it was probed for small molecules: glutamate, glutamine, glycine, GABA, taurine, glutathione; or proteins GFAP and GS. RPC1 was evaluated using the Viking software suite.

RPC1 was chosen based on early features of retinal degeneration/remodeling: degeneration of rod OS, MC hypertrophy, and neuronal sprouting. RPC1 consists of 948 serial sections spanning the ONL to the vitreous, with a diameter of 90µm. We find dendrites extending from rod bipolar cells to cone pedicles, originally described in light microscopy, and active synaptic contacts. We also see alterations of synaptic structure in the IPL, and MC morphological changes affecting surface to volume and neuron/glial relationships. Network motifs are being actively investigated.

We observe many features of remodeling previously described using light microscopy, and confirm active synaptic contact. We also find synaptic structural features, not previously described. In addition, early evaluation of MC morphology demonstrates marked changes in MC shape and associations with nearby neurons and glia, which, combined with CMP, will be instrumental in understanding how MCs affect retinal remodeling.

Synaptic Inputs To A Gamma Ganglion Cell In Rabbit Retina

This abstract was presented today, May 8th at the 2017 Association for Research in Vision and Opthalmology (ARVO) meetings in Baltimore, Maryland by Andrea Bordt, Diego Perez, Robert E. Marc, James R. Anderson, Carl B. Watt, Bryan W. Jones, Crystal Sigulinsky, James S. Lauritzen, Danny Emrich, Noah Nelson, Luke Tseng, Weiley Liu, and David W. Marshak. Full resolution version here.

Purpose: There are at least 30 distinct types of mammalian retinal ganglion cells, each sensitive to different features of the visual environment, and these can be grouped according to their morphology. One such group, the gamma cells, was identified more than 40 years ago, but their synaptic inputs have never been described. That was the goal of this study.

Methods: The synaptic inputs to a subtype of gamma cell with dendrites ramifying in the outer sublamina of the inner plexiform layer (IPL) of the rabbit retina were identified in a retinal connectome developed using automated transmission electron microscopy.

Results: The gamma cell was always postsynaptic in the IPL, confirming its identity as a ganglion cell. The local synaptic input should produce relatively weak OFF reposnses to stimuli confined to the center of the gamma cell’s receptive field. It typically received only one synapse per bipolar cell from at least 4 types of OFF bipolar cells. Because bipolar cells vary in their response kinetics and contrast sensitivity. each type would provide a small, asynchronous excitatory input. The amacrine cells at the dyad synapses provided only a small amount presynaptic inhibition; reciprocal synapses were observed in only 3 of the 18 ribbon synapses. There was no glycinergic crossover inhibition, another local interaction that would enhance light responses. Local postsynaptic inhibition was somewhat more common; in 6 instances, the bipolar cells presynaptic to the gamma cell or their electrically coupled neighbors also provided input to an amacrine cell that inhibited the gamma cell. The other amacrine cell inputs to the gamma cell should have a much greater impact on the light responses because they are far more numerous. These are from axons and long dendrites of GABAergic amacrine cells, and they provide 60% of all the input. This finding suggests that many types of stimuli in the receptive field surround or outside of the classical receptive field would provide potent inhibition to the gamma cell.

Conclusions: The synaptic inputs rsuggest that gamma cells in rabbit retina would have light responses like their homologs in mouse retina, OFF responses to small stimuli in the receptive field center that are suppressed by a variety of larger stimuli. Thus, they would signal object motion selectively.

Retinal Remodeling And Metabolic Alterations in Human AMD

We have a new publication out (direct link, open access), Müller Cell Metabolic Chaos During Retinal Degeneration authored by Bryan W. JonesRebecca Pfeiffer, William Ferrell, Carl Watt, James Tucker, and Robert Marc.


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive retinal degeneration resulting in central visual field loss, ultimately causing debilitating blindness. AMD affects 18% of Americans from 65 to 74, 30% older than 74 years of age and is the leading cause of severe vision loss and blindness in Western populations. While many genetic and environmental risk factors are known for AMD, we currently know less about the mechanisms mediating disease progression. The pathways and mechanisms through which genetic and non-genetic risk factors modulate development of AMD pathogenesis remain largely unexplored. Moreover, current treatment for AMD is palliative and limited to wet/exudative forms. Retina is a complex, heterocellular tissue and most retinal cell classes are impacted or altered in AMD. Defining disease and stage-specific cytoarchitectural and metabolic responses in AMD is critical for highlighting targets for intervention. The goal of this article is to illustrate cell types impacted in AMD and demonstrate the implications of those changes, likely beginning in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), for remodeling of the the neural retina. Tracking heterocellular responses in disease progression is best achieved with computational molecular phenotyping (CMP), a tool that enables acquisition of a small molecule fingerprint for every cell in the retina. CMP uncovered critical cellular and molecular pathologies (remodeling and reprogramming) in progressive retinal degenerations such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP). We now applied these approaches to normal human and AMD tissues mapping progression of cellular and molecular changes in AMD retinas, including late-stage forms of the disease.

Ultrastructural Connectomics Reveals The Entire Chemical And Electrical Synaptic Cohort Of An ON Cone Bipolar Cell In The Inner Plexiform Layer Of The Rabbit Retina


This abstract was presented at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington D.C. by J. Scott Lauritzen, Crystal L. Sigulinsky, Danny P. Emrich, Joshua M. Dudleston, Noah T. Nelson, Rebecca L. Pfeiffer, Nathan R. Sherbotie, John V. Hoang, Jefferson R. Brown, Carl B. WattJames R. Anderson, Bryan W. Jones and Robert E. Marc.

Purpose: Despite large-scale efforts aimed at mapping the mammalian nervous system, the entire synaptic cohort of a single mammalian neuron of any class has never been mapped. To this end we reconstructed all chemical and electrical synaptic partners of a single ON cone bipolar cell (ON CBC) in the inner plexiform layer (IPL) of the rabbit retina. We then searched all members of the same cell class for repeating network motifs and explored postsynaptic cell sampling topologies from this bipolar cell (BC).

Methods: Cells in retinal connectome 1 (RC1) were annotated with Viking viewer, and explored via graph visualization of connectivity and 3D rendering (Anderson et al., 2011 J Microscopy). Small molecule signals in RC1, e.g. GABA, glycine, and L-glutamate, combined with morphological reconstruction and connectivity analysis allow robust cell classification. The default resolution of RC1 is 2.18nm/pixel, however goniometric recapture at 0.273 nm/pixel was performed as needed for synapse verification.

Results: ON CBC 593 is one of 20 BCs of this class in RC1, the axonal arbors of which tile with gap junctions between nearest neighbors at their distal axonal tips. ON CBC 593 contains 194 ribbons, 274 postsynaptic densities, 20 gap junctions, and 66 conventional synapses, for a total of 554 synaptic connections. Twenty ganglion cells sample the glutamatergic output. ON CBC 593 is presynaptic to 262 amacrine cell (AC) processes, and is postsynaptic to 228 AC processes. Of these, 33% form reciprocal connections. We approximate that ON CBC 593 forms synapses with 50 distinct ACs. ON CBC 593 is routinely pre- and postsynaptic to within-class, cross-class, feedback, and feedforward inhibition motifs, including 1 instance of OFF-ON crossover inhibition. ON CBC 593 forms 12 gap junctions with at least 2 AII ACs, 7 with 5 ON CBCs, and 1 with itself. We searched for repeating network motifs across all ON CBCs of this class in RC1. Thus far, 80% of these form in-class inhibitory motifs, and 75% form cross-class inhibitory motifs. All ACs and GCs discovered to contact multiple branches of ON CBC 593 form synapses on every branch.

Conclusions: An individual bipolar cell is inherently multi-kinetic, receiving inhibition driven by all ON CBC classes, sharing these signals via gap junctions with ON CBCs of the same class, and driving inhibition of all ON CBC classes. This constitutes a substrate for multi-channel coordination throughout the IPL, and predicts multi-kinetic BC responses. The results establish a normative framework against which members of the same and different classes may be compared, and foster interpretation of BC physiological behavior under different stimulus regimes.

Ultrastructural Reconstruction of ON Cone Bipolar Cell Projective Fields In The Innter Plexiform Layer of The Rabbit Retina

retina reconstruction

This abstract was presented at the 2014 FASEB Summer Research Conference in Saxtons River, Vermont by J. Scott Lauritzen, Crystal L. Sigulinsky, Noah T. Nelson, Nathan R. Sherbotie, Danny P. Emrich, Rebecca L. Pfeiffer, Jefferson R. Brown, John V. Hoang, Joshua M. Dudleston, Carl B. Watt, Kevin Rapp, Marguerite V. Shaw, Jia-Hui Yang, James R. Anderson, Bryan W. Jones and Robert E. Marc.

Purpose: Functional mapping in tiger salamander shows that bipolar cell (BC) projective fields far exceed their axonal fields, and directly implicates wide-field GABAergic amacrine cells (wf γACs) and gap junctions (Asari & Meister, 2014). Strikingly, single BCs exert differential effects on functionally distinct ganglion cells (GCs), likely achieved by privatized amacrine cell (AC) presynaptic inhibition to specific BC-GC synaptic pairs (Asari & Meister, 2012). To address whether BC projective fields in the mammal are equally broad, wf γAC- and gap junction-dependent, and GC type unselective, we reconstructed all electrical and chemical synaptic partners of a single ON cone BC in the inner plexiform layer of the rabbit retina, and searched BC-GC synaptic pairs for differential synaptic inhibition.

Methods: Cells in retinal connectome 1 (RC1) were annotated with Viking viewer, and explored via connectivity visualizations and 3D rendering (Anderson et al., 2011). Small molecule signals embedded in RC1, e.g. GABA, glycine, and L-glutamate, combined with morphological reconstruction and connectivity analysis allow robust cell classification. We used the MacNeil et al. (2004) rabbit BC classification scheme.

Results: CBb5w 593 is one of 20 ON cone BCs of this class in RC1. This CBb5w is presynaptic to 17 distinct GCs and 262 AC processes, and postsynaptic to 228 AC processes. The majority of these ACs are wf γACs. We estimate this BC forms synapses with 50 unique ACs. Asari & Meister (2014) found that single bipolar cell projective fields range up to 1 mm, far beyond a BC axonal field, and differentially drive multiple classes of GC. We discovered BC-BC within- and cross-class coupling and lateral inhibition that construct sign-conserving and sign-inverting projective fields to many distinct ganglion cell classes across the entire 0.25 mm diameter of RC1, much greater than a 60 µm BC axonal field. Cross-class projections access a broader set of GCs than expected from in-class projections alone. The BC-BC coupling is independent of BC-AII AC coupling. 94% of the CBb5w 593 BC-GC synaptic pairs receive feedback inhibition within the varicosity of the ribbon, but the number of feedback synapses is highly variable (coefficient of variation = 0.81). 35% of the BC-GC pairs receive feedforward inhibition within 2 microns of the postsynaptic density.

Conclusions: Mammalian BCs use novel cross-class topologies to distribute signals to a wide range of GCs and establish projective fields similar to those discovered in non-mammalian species. BC-BC within- and cross-class coupling and lateral inhibition via wf γACs establish sign-conserving and sign-inverting projective fields, respectively, up to 1 mm diameters. BC-GC synaptic pairs overwhelmingly employ feedback vs. feedforward inhibition to modulate signaling, and the numbers of feedback synapses are highly variable across these pairs, accounting for privatized and differential GC responses to the same BC drive.

A Synaptic Basis for Small World Network Design in the ON Inner Plexiform Layer of the Rabbit Retina

Bipolar cells_

This abstract was presented today at the 2014 Association for Research in Vision and Opthalmology (ARVO) meetings in Orlando, Florida by J Scott Lauritzen, Noah T. Nelson, Crystal L. Sigulinsky, Nathan Sherbotie, John Hoang, Rebecca L. PfeifferJames R. Anderson, Carl B. Watt, Bryan W. Jones and Robert E. Marc.

Purpose: Converging evidence suggests that large- and intermediate-scale neural networks throughout the nervous system exhibit small world’ design characterized by high local clustering of connections yet short path length between neuronal modules (Watts & Strogatz 1998 Nature; Sporns et al.2004 Trends in Cog Sci). It is suspected that this organizing principle scales to local networks (Ganmor et al. 2011 J Neurosci; Sporns 2006 BioSystems) but direct observation of synapses and local network topologies mediating small world design has not been achieved in any neuronal tissue. We sought direct evidence for synaptic and topological substrates that instantiate small world network architectures in the ON inner plexiform layer (IPL) of the rabbit retina. To test this we mined ≈ 200 ON cone bipolar cells (BCs) and ≈ 500 inhibitory amacrine cell (AC) processes in the ultrastructural rabbit retinal connectome (RC1).

Methods: BC networks in RC1 were annotated with the Viking viewer and explored via graph visualization of connectivity and 3D rendering (Anderson et al. 2011 J Microscopy). Small molecule signals embedded in RC1 e.g. GABA glycine and L-glutamate combined with morphological reconstruction and connectivity analysis allow for robust cell classification. MacNeil et al. (2004 J Comp Neurol) BC classification scheme used for clarity.

Results: Homocellular BC coupling (CBb3::CBb3 CBb4::CBb4 CBb5::CBb5) and within-class BC inhibitory networks (CBb3 → AC –| CBb3 CBb4 → AC –| CBb4 CBb5 → AC –| CBb5) in each ON IPL strata form laminar-specific functional sheets with high clustering coefficients. Heterocellular BC coupling (CBb3::CBb4 CBb4::CBb5 CBb3::CBb5) and cross-class BC inhibitory networks (CBb3 → AC –| CBb4 CBb4 → AC –| CBb3 CBb4 → AC –| CBb5 CBb5 → AC –| CBb4 CBb3 → AC –| CBb5 CBb5 → AC –| CBb3) establish short synaptic path lengths across all ON IPL laminae.

Conclusions: The retina contains a greater than expected number of synaptic hubs that multiplex parallel channels presynaptic to ganglion cells. The results validate a synaptic basis (ie. direct synaptic connectivity) and local network topology for the small world architecture indicated at larger scales providing neuroanatomical plausibility of this organization for local networks and are consistent with small world design as a fundamental organizing principle of neural networks on multiple spatial scales.

Support:  NIH EY02576 (RM), NIH EY015128 (RM), NSF 0941717 (RM), NIH EY014800 Vision Core (RM), RPB CDA (BWJ), Thome AMD Grant (BWJ).

Retinal connectomics: A New Era For Connectivity Analysis in The New Visual Neurosciences


We have a new publication, this one a chapter titled: Retinal connectomics: A New Era For Connectivity Analysis in The New Visual Neurosciences (A little cheaper on Amazon here) textbook.  Authors are Robert E. Marc, Bryan W. Jones, James S. Lauritzen, Carl B. Watt and James R. Anderson.

Retinal Connectomics: Toward Complete, Accurate Networks

Retinal Connectomics_600

We have a new publication, Retinal connectomics: Toward complete, accurate networks in Progress in Retinal and Eye Research.  Authors are:  Robert E. Marc, Bryan W. JonesCarl B. Watt, Crystal Sigulinsky, James R. Anderson and J. Scott Lauritzen.

Connectomics is a strategy for mapping complex neural networks based on high-speed automated electron optical imaging, computational assembly of neural data volumes, web-based navigational tools to explore 1012-1015 byte (terabyte to petabyte) image volumes, and annotation and markup tools to convert images into rich networks with cellular metadata. These collections of network data and associated metadata, analyzed using tools from graph theory and classification theory, can be merged with classical systems theory, giving a more completely parameterized view of how biologic information processing systems are implemented in retina and brain. Networks have two separable features: topology and connection attributes. The first findings from connectomics strongly validate the idea that the topologies complete retinal networks are far more complex than the simple schematics that emerged from classical anatomy. In particular, connectomics has permitted an aggressive refactoring of the retinal inner plexiform layer, demonstrating that network function cannot be simply inferred from stratification; exposing the complex geometric rules for inserting different cells into a shared network; revealing unexpected bidirectional signaling pathways between mammalian rod and cone systems; documenting selective feedforward systems, novel candidate signaling architectures, new coupling motifs, and the highly complex architecture of the mammalian AII amacrine cell. This is but the beginning, as the underlying principles of connectomics are readily transferrable to non-neural cell complexes and provide new contexts for assessing intercellular communication.