Tag Archives: retinal degeneration

Circuit Remodeling In Retinal Degeneration

This abstract was presented yesterday, April 29th at the 2018 Association for Research in Vision and Opthalmology (ARVO) meetings in Honolulu, Hawaii by Bryan W. Jones.


The retina is a complex, heterocellular tissue with most/all retinal cell classes becoming impacted or altered in retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in a process called retinal remodeling. Defining disease and the stage-specific cytoarchitectural and metabolic responses in RP and AMD is critical for highlighting targets for intervention. We now know that negative plasticity and neural retinal remodeling occurs regardless of retinal insult in models of retinal degeneration as well as in human RP and in human AMD, revealing that no retinal disease fails to trigger remodeling and reprogramming.

Evidence in the literature over the past decade has improved our understanding into mechanisms of initial retinal degeneration and informed our understanding of the subsequent remodeling events in the neural retina that occur post-photoreceptor degeneration. Remodeling associated with retinal degeneration is intimately linked with insults that cause photoreceptor stress and eventually photoreceptor cell death. These phenomena result in reprogramming of cell types in retina followed by progressive neural degeneration akin to CNS neural degenerations involving both neuronal and glial classes. No cell class in the retina is spared from the effects of remodeling. The earliest cell classes involved in remodeling are horizontal, bipolar and Müller cells and the Müller glia are the last cell class left in the remodeling retina.

Our efforts are now focused on elucidating the precise wiring changes in retina, through the creation of pathological connectomes, or “patho-connectomes” to study precisely what the circuit topologies are, compared to normal topologies derived from Retinal Connectome 1 (RC1).  Also, because temporal windows are critical to understanding when interventions may be possible, we are exploring when circuit topology revisions occur to understand their impact on information flow in the retina and their impact on rescues of vision loss.  Precise circuit topologies in early retinal degenerative events is our first area of exploration with ultrastructural reconstructions of outer retinal neurons, bipolar cells and horizontal cells.  Müller glia are also of intense interest as we are tracking the earliest metabolic and morphological changes in glia in response to retinal degenerations.

Editorial: Special Issue on Retinal Remodeling

Geoff Lewis and I worked over the last year or so to edit a special issue of Experimental Eye Research with a focus on Retinal Remodeling.  Our editorial for the issue is here. Pubmed link is here.

This special issue of Experimental Eye Research represents laboratories around the world that are involved in retinal degeneration research and was developed with two motivations: 1) to solicit manuscripts from our colleagues that would give broad, yet substantial insight into the various disorders associated with retinal degeneration and 2) to focus discussion in the vision research community into the negative plasticity now known as retinal remodeling that is associated with blinding diseases…

We selected an image for the cover from the Calkins lab (the center image in the above montage) that we felt was beautiful and represented the quality of work that went into every article in this issue and look forward to the dialogue that this special issue will foster.  Many thanks to: The Lewis/Fisher lab, the Calkins lab, the Vetter lab, the Lutty lab, the Gross lab, the Sagdullaev lab, the Merriman lab and Wei Li, Michael Kalloniatis and the Fletcher lab, the Cuenca lab, the Acosta lab, and everyone in our lab.

Müller Cell Metabolic Chaos During Retinal Degeneration

We have a new publication out (direct link, open access), Müller Cell Metabolic Chaos During Retinal Degeneration authored by Rebecca PfeifferRobert Marc, Mineo Kondo, Hiroko Terasaki and Bryan W. Jones.


Müller cells play a critical role in retinal metabolism and are among the first cells to demonstrate metabolic changes in retinal stress or disease. The timing, extent, regulation, and impacts of these changes are not yet known. We evaluated metabolic phenotypes of Müller cells in the degenerating retina.

Retinas harvested from wild-type (WT) and rhodopsin Tg P347L rabbits were fixed in mixed aldehydes and resin embedded for computational molecular phenotyping (CMP). CMP facilitates small molecule fingerprinting of every cell in the retina, allowing evaluation of metabolite levels in single cells.

CMP revealed signature variations in metabolite levels across Müller cells from TgP347L retina. In brief, neighboring Müller cells demonstrated variability in taurine, glutamate, glutamine, glutathione, glutamine synthetase (GS), and CRALBP. This variability showed no correlation across metabolites, implying the changes are functionally chaotic rather than simply heterogeneous. The inability of any clustering algorithm to classify Müller cell as a single class in the TgP347L retina is a formal proof of metabolic variability in the present in degenerating retina.

Although retinal degeneration is certainly the trigger, Müller cell metabolic alterations are not a coherent response to the microenvironment. And while GS is believed to be the primary enzyme responsible for the conversion of glutamate to glutamine in the retina, alternative pathways appear to be unmasked in degenerating retina. Somehow, long term remodeling involves loss of Müller cell coordination and identity, which has negative implications for therapeutic interventions that target neurons alone.

Progressive Retinal Remodeling In A Transgenic Rabbit Model Of Retinitis Pigmentosa

This poster was presented today, May 2th at the 2016 Association for Research in Vision and Opthalmology (ARVO) meetings in Seattle, Washington by Rebecca L. Pfeiffer, Bryan W. Jones, and Robert E. Marc.

Posterboard #: D0246

Abstract Number: 2256 – D0246

Author Block: Rebecca L. Pfeiffer1,2 , Bryan W. Jones1,2 , Robert E. Marc1,2 
1 Ophthalmology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States; 2 Interdepartmental Program in Neuroscience, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States

Purpose:Retinal degenerations are a collection of neural disorders, usually precipitated by photoreceptor degeneration. All display progressive metabolic alterations and neural loss following the death of the photoreceptors. Although it has been demonstrated that the metabolism of Müller cells (MCs) is drastically altered in degeneration, the full impact of these changes on surrounding neurons and long-term characterization of remodeling was previously unavailable, due to short lifespans of model organisms.

Methods:Retinal samples were collected from WT and Tg P347L rabbits at ages ranging from 3 months to 6 years. Following enucleation, retinas were divided into fragments and incubated for 10 minutes at 35 degrees C in D-isomers of Glutamate (dE), Glutamine (dQ), or Aspartate (dD) and Ames-bicarbonate medium to explore retinal transport capabilities at each stage of degeneration. Retinas were then fixed in mixed aldehyde buffer and processed for transmission electron microscope connectomics, immunocytochemistry for a range of macromolecules, and computational molecular phenotyping for small molecules (CMP) (J Comp Neurol. 464:1, 2003).

Results:CMP reveals that single metabolic phenotype of MCs splits and diverges into many phenotypes continuously throughout degeneration. Further, all neuronal classes continue to die throughout degeneration. By 6 years, over 90% of neurons are lost, and the remaining glutamatergic neurons have altered metabolic signatures with a large increase in aspartate levels, at times exceeding glutamate. Transport of the D-isomers indicates that glutamate transport capabilities remain intact until the latest stages of degeneration. This may not be true of their GABA transporters.

Conclusions:These results suggest three main conclusions. First, retinal remodeling in degeneration is relentlessly progressive long after all photoreceptors have disappeared. Second, cell types previously thought to remain after degeneration onset, such as ganglion cells, will also ultimately die and the cells not lost often will change their metabolism. The consequence of this metabolic change in neurons is not yet fully explored. Third, the persistent robust glutamate transport capabilities of Müller cells indicate Müller cells can metabolize glutamate despite the massive loss of glutamine synthetase activity, likely unmasking alternate metabolic pathways.

Retinal Remodeling in Human Retinitis Pigmentosa

We have a new publication out (Direct Link, Free Open Access), Retinal Remodeling in Human Retinitis Pigmentosa authored by Bryan W. Jones, Rebecca Pfeiffer, Drew Ferrell, Carl Watt, Michael Marmor and Robert Marc.

Abstract: Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) in the human is a progressive, currently irreversible neural degenerative disease usually caused by gene defects that disrupt the function or architecture of the photoreceptors. While RP can initially be a disease of photoreceptors, there is increasing evidence that the inner retina becomes progressively disorganized as the outer retina degenerates. These alterations have been extensively described in animal models, but remodeling in humans has not been as well characterized. This study, using computational molecular phenotyping (CMP) seeks to advance our understanding of the retinal remodeling process in humans. We describe cone mediated preservation of overall topology, retinal reprogramming in the earliest stages of the disease in retinal bipolar cells, and alterations in both small molecule and protein signatures of neurons and glia. Furthermore, while Müller glia appear to be some of the last cells left in the degenerate retina, they are also one of the first cell classes in the neural retina to respond to stress which may reveal mechanisms related to remodeling and cell death in other retinal cell classes. Also fundamentally important is the finding that retinal network topologies are altered. Our results suggest interventions that presume substantial preservation of the neural retina will likely fail in late stages of the disease. Even early intervention offers no guarantee that the interventions will be immune to progressive remodeling. Fundamental work in the biology and mechanisms of disease progression are needed to support vision rescue strategies.

Webvision Chapter: Retinal Degeneration, Remodeling and Plasticity

We have published a new chapter in Webvision, Retinal Degeneration, Remodeling and Plasticity that covers the history of the study of retinal degenerations and some of the implications for vision rescue.  Authors are Bryan W. Jones, Rebecca L. Pfeiffer and Robert E. Marc.  It will, like other Webvision chapters evolve over time, which is the whole point of Webvision, but we hope it will generate some discussion.

Metabolic Changes Associated With Müller Cells In A Transgenic Rabbit Model Of Retinal Degeneration


This abstract was presented today at the 2014 Association for Research in Vision and Opthalmology (ARVO) meetings in Orlando, Florida by  Rebecca L. PfeifferBryan W. Jones and Robert E. Marc.

Purpose: Müller cells play a central role in retinal metabolism via the glutamate cycle. During retinal degeneration Müller cells are among the first to demonstrate changes, reflected in alterations of metabolic signatures and morphology. The timing, extent and regulation of these changes is not fully characterized. To address this issue, we evaluated Müller cell metabolic phenotypes at multiple stages of retinal remodeling.

Methods: Samples were collected post-mortem from both WT and P347L rabbits. The retinas were then divided into fragments, fixed in buffered aldehydes, and embedded in epoxy resins. Tissues were sectioned at 200nm followed by classification with computational molecular phenotyping (CMP) using an array of small and macromolecular signatures (aspartate (D), glutamate (E), glycine (G), glutamine (Q), glutathione (J), GABA (yy), taurine (T), CRALBP, Glutamine Synthetase (GS), and GFAP). Levels of amino acid or protein were quantified by selecting a region of interest either within the Müller cell population or surrounding neurons and evaluating the intensity of the signal within that region.

Results: CMP reveals overall decreases in GS levels over the course of degeneration. Of notable importance, we saw that in regions of near complete photoreceptor loss neighboring Müller cells may express independent variation in metabolic signatures of E, Q, and GS. Also observed in these Müller cells, ratios of GS:E and GS:Q are not consistent with the ratios seen in WT retina. These results are inconsistent with the current models of both E to Q metabolism and microenvironment regulation of Müller cell phenotypes.

Conclusions: These observations indicate two conclusions. First, although the degenerate state of the retina is the likely trigger inducing Müller cells to express altered metabolic signatures, the rate at which the metabolic state changes is not purely a product of the surrounding environment, but also a stochastic change within individual Müller cells. Second, although it is commonly accepted that GS is the primary enzyme which converts Q to E as part of the glutamate cycle, in degenerate retina alternative pathways may be utilized following decrease in GS.

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