Abstract: Muller cells are a critical component of retinal function and rapidly change metabolically and morphologically in retinal disease. Of Muller cell functions, many require close physical relationships between the Muller cell and the synapses of the neurons they support. Despite this required neuro-glial relationship, little is known about the direct contacts between Muller cells and synapses in healthy or diseased retinas. In order to address this, I use a connectomics/pathoconnectomics approach to reconstruct Muller cells and their neighboring synapses. The retinas evaluated are from a healthy rabbit, retinal connectome 1 (RC1), and from the P347L rabbit model of retinitis pigmentosa, retinal pathoconnectome 1 (RPC1). Preliminary data demonstrate an increase in endfoot entanglement in RPC1 when compared with RC1, and direct synaptic contact analysis of both connectomes is ongoing.
Abstract: Biomedical research relies heavily on animal models to study human disease and develop therapeutics. Understanding the architectural diversity in neural networks between humans and these model species is essential for choosing a relevant study model and interpreting conflicting results. Using comparative connectomics, we sought to map and compare the local neural network architecture of rabbit and mouse retinal Aii amacrine cells. This specialized narrow-field, multistratified, glycinergic interneuron has critical feedforward and feedback roles in both the photopic and scotopic retinal networks spanning the ON and OFF pathways, making it an ideal candidate for investigating species-specific differences in retinal networks. High-resolution, serial-section transmission electron microscopy (TEM) volumes of rabbit (RC1: female, 13- month, Dutch Belted) and mouse (RC2: female, 5-month, C57BL/6J) retinal tissue provided spatially-registered synaptic maps of Aii connectivity at directly comparable resolution and completeness. These reveal that despite species-specific morphologies, gross synaptology and compartmentalization appear conserved. Yet, rabbit and mouse Aii cells diverge in the weighting of their partnerships, most notably in their coupling profiles. Opposing biases in gap junction partnerships and their respective sizing rules indicate a greater relative output by mouse Aii cells to ON pathways than in rabbit. However, a unique topological conformation for a subset of conventional presynapses formed by Aii cell lobular dendrites with species-specific features and prevalence may influence signal output to specific partner classes within the OFF pathway and either nullify or exacerbate this difference in ON/OFF output. Additionally, rabbit Aii cells in RC1 showed greater Aii-Aii coupling than in mouse, which may suggest greater signal-to-noise compensation. Lastly, preliminary data suggest mouse Aii cells receive greater excitatory, but not inhibitory input/feedback from the OFF pathway than in rabbit. Together these data indicate that precise neural circuit architectures diverge between species and require detailed, comprehensive mapping to begin to dissect potential influence on signal flow.
Neurons make converging and diverging synaptic connections with distinct partner types. Whether synapses involving separate partners demonstrate similar or distinct structural motifs is not yet well understood. We thus used serial electron microscopy in mouse retina to map output synapses of cone bipolar cells (CBCs) and compare their structural arrangements across bipolar types and postsynaptic partners. Three presynaptic configurations emerge—single-ribbon, ribbonless, and multiribbon synapses. Each CBC type exploits these arrangements in a unique combination, a feature also found among rabbit ON CBCs. Though most synapses are dyads, monads and triads are also seen. Altogether, mouse CBCs exhibit at least six motifs, and each CBC type uses these in a stereotypic pattern. Moreover, synapses between CBCs and particular partner types appear biased toward certain motifs. Our observations reveal synaptic strategies that diversify the output within and across CBC types, potentially shaping the distinct functions of retinal microcircuits.
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.
Abstract: Gap junctions are ubiquitous throughout the nervous system, mediating critical signal transmission and integration, as well as emergent network properties. In mammalian retina, gap junctions within the Aii amacrine cell-ON cone bipolar cell (CBC) network are essential for night vision, modulation of day vision, and contribute to visual impairment in retinal degenerations, yet neither the extended network topology nor its conservation is well established. Here, we map the network contribution of gap junctions using a high-resolution connectomics dataset of an adult female rabbit retina. Gap junctions are prominent synaptic components of ON CBC classes, constituting 5%–25% of all axonal synaptic contacts. Many of these mediate canonical transfer of rod signals from Aii cells to ON CBCs for night vision, and we find that the uneven distribution of Aii signals to ON CBCs is conserved in rabbit, including one class entirely lacking direct Aii coupling. However, the majority of gap junctions formed by ON CBCs unexpectedly occur between ON CBCs, rather than with Aii cells. Such coupling is extensive, creating an interconnected network with numerous lateral paths both within, and particularly across, these parallel processing streams. Coupling patterns are precise with ON CBCs accepting and rejecting unique combinations of partnerships according to robust rulesets. Coupling specificity extends to both size and spatial topologies, thereby rivaling the synaptic specificity of chemical synapses. These ON CBC coupling motifs dramatically extend the coupled Aii-ON CBC network, with implications for signal flow in both scotopic and photopic retinal networks during visual processing and disease.
This is Kevin Rapp, a technician in the lab running some test captures on our original JEOL transmission electron microscope. This microscope is likely the highest use electron microscope on planet Earth, having been run effectively non-stop for over a decade. This microscope, purchased through a generous gift from Martha Ann Dumke Healey made possible our entire connectomics initiatives.
This is Becca Pfeiffer setting up a test capture on our new JEOL electron microscope. We’ve customized this scope, like our previous scope, and it is taking us a little while to track down some variables with a piece of equipment this complex and hammer them down. My thanks to Becca, Jamie and Kevin for working through this together.