Category Archives: Pathoconnectomics

Impact of Retinal Degeneration on Response of ON and OFF Cone Bipolar Cells to Electrical Stimulation

We have a new manuscript from the lab in IEEE, Impact of Retinal Degeneration on Response of ON and OFF Cone Bipolar Cells to Electrical Stimulation. This manuscript is in collaboration with the Lazzi lab out of USC.  The first author, Shayan Farzad, Pragya Kosta, Ege Iseri, Steven T Walston, Jean-Marie C. Bouteiller,  Rebecca L. Pfeiffer @BeccaPfeiffer19, Crystal L. Sigulinsky @CSigulinsky, Jia-Hui Yang, Jessica C. Garcia, James R. Anderson, Bryan W. Jones @BWJones, and Gianluca Lazzi. The PDF is here.

Abstract: In retinal degenerative diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the photoreceptors become stressed and start to degenerate in the early stages of the disease. Retinal prosthetic devices have been developed to restore vision in patients by applying electrical stimulation to the surviving retinal cells. However, these devices provide limited visual perception as the therapeutic interventions are generally considered in the later stages of the disease when only inner retinal layer cells are left. A potential treatment option for retinal degenerative diseases in the early stages can be stimulating bipolar cells, which receive presynaptic signals from photoreceptors. In this work, we constructed computational models of healthy and degenerated (both ON and OFF-type) cone bipolar cells (CBCs) with realistic morphologies extracted from connectomes of the healthy and early-stage degenerated rabbit retina. We examined these cells’ membrane potential and axon terminal calcium current differences when subjected to electrical stimulation. In addition, we investigated how differently healthy and degenerated cells behave with respect to various stimulation parameters, including pulse duration and cells’ distance from the stimulating electrode. The results suggested that regardless of the position of the OFF CBCs in the retina model, there is not a significant difference between the membrane potential of healthy and degenerate cells when electrically stimulated. However, the healthy ON CBC axon terminal membrane potential rising time-constant is shorter (0.29 ± 0.03 ms) than the degenerated cells (0.8 ± 0.07 ms). Moreover, the ionic calcium channels at the axon terminals of the cells have a higher concentration and higher current in degenerated cells (32.24 ± 6.12 pA) than the healthy cells (13.64 ± 2.88 pA) independently of the cell’s position.

Müller Cell Connectomics In Health And Disease

This talk was presented today, April 25th at the 2023 Association for Research in Vision and Opthalmology (ARVO) meetings in New Orleans, Louisiana by Rebecca Pfeiffer as part of an ARVO Minisymposium Bryan William Jones organized.

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.

Current Perspective on Retinal Remodeling: Implications for Therapeutics

We have a new paper out of the lab, a perspectives paper on Retinal Remodeling: Implications for Therapeutics. (pdf here).

Authors are Rebecca L. Pfeiffer @BeccaPfeiffer19, and Bryan W. Jones @BWJones.

Abstract: The retinal degenerative diseases retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration are a leading cause of irreversible vision loss. Both present with progressive photoreceptor degeneration that is further complicated by processes of retinal remodeling. In this perspective, we discuss the current state of the field of retinal remodeling and its implications for vision-restoring therapeutics currently in development. Here, we discuss the challenges and pitfalls retinal remodeling poses for each therapeutic strategy under the premise that understanding the features of retinal remodeling in totality will provide a basic framework with which therapeutics can interface. Additionally, we discuss the potential for approaching therapeutics using a combined strategy of using diffusible molecules in tandem with other vision-restoring therapeutics. We end by discussing the potential of the retina and retinal remodeling as a model system for more broadly understanding the progression of neurodegeneration across the central nervous system.

One Connectome Finished, Another Pathoconnectome Begins

We finished sectioning and capturing a massive new retinal connectome that we are going to be so excited to announce at some point in the not too distant future.  Effective immediately, we are also starting on a brand new pathoconnectome that we will be powering through over the next little while. Thanks to the team of people who make this happen, shown in this post are Jia-Hui Yang, Matt Berardy, and Rebecca Pfeiffer. More photos here.

Model-Based Comparison of Current Flow in Rod Bipolar Cells of Healthy and Early-Stage Degenerated Retina

We have a new manuscript out in Experimental Eye Research, Model-Based Comparison of Current Flow in Rod Bipolar Cells of Healthy and Early-Stage Degenerated Retina. (pdf here)

Authors: Pragya Kosta, Ege Iseri, Kyle Loizos, Javad Paknahad, Rebecca L. Pfeiffer @BeccaPfeiffer19, Crystal L. Sigulinsky @CLSigulinsky, James R. Anderson, Bryan W. Jones @BWJones, and Gianluca Lazzi.

Abstract: Retinal degenerative diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa, are generally thought to initiate with the loss of photoreceptors, though recent work suggests that plasticity and remodeling occurs prior to photoreceptor cell loss. This degeneration subsequently leads to death of other retinal neurons, creating functional alterations and extensive remodeling of retinal networks. Retinal prosthetic devices stimulate the surviving retinal cells by applying external current using implanted electrodes. Although these devices restore partial vision, the quality of restored vision is limited. Further knowledge about the precise changes in degenerated retina as the disease progresses is essential to understand how current flows in retinas undergoing degenerative disease and to improve the performance of retinal prostheses. We developed computational models that describe current flow from rod photoreceptors to rod bipolar cells


Model-based Comparison of Current Flow in Rod Bipolar Cells of Healthy and Early-Stage Degenerated Retina

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.


Coupling architecture of the retinal Aii/ON cone bipolar cell network and alteration in degeneration

This poster was presented today, July 28th at the 2019 International Gap Junction Conference in Victoria, Canada by Crystal L. Sigulinsky, Rebecca L. PfeifferJames R. Anderson, Christopher Rapp, Jeebika Dahal, Jessica C Garcia, Jia-Hui Yang, Daniel P. Emrich, Hope Morrison, Kevin D. Rapp, Carl B. Watt, Mineo Kondo, Hiroko Terasaki, Robert E. Marc and Bryan W. Jones.

Almost full resolution version here.


Crystal L Sigulinsky1, Rebecca L Pfeiffer1, James R. Anderson1, Christopher N. Rapp1, Jeebika Dahal1, Jessica C Garcia1, Jia-Hui Yang1, Daniel P. Emrich1, Hope Morrison1, Kevin D. Rapp1, Carl B. Watt1, Mineo Kondo2, Hiroko Terasaki3, Robert E. Marc1, Bryan W. Jones1
1Moran Eye Center/ Ophthalmology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States; 2Mie University, Tsu, Japan; 3Nagoya University, Nagoya-shi, Japan;


Background and aim:
Gap junctions are prevalent throughout the neural retina, with expression by every major neuronal class and at every level of signal processing. Yet, the functional roles and expressing cells/participating networks for many remain unknown. Spontaneous network spontaneous hyperactivity observed during retinal degeneration contributes to visual impairment and requires gap junctional coupling in the Aii amacrine cell/ON cone bipolar cell (CBC) network.  However, it remains unclear whether this hyperactivity reflects changes in the underlying circuitry or dysfunction of the normative circuitry. Here, we used connectomics-based mapping of retinal circuitry to 1) define the coupling architecture of the Aii/ON CBC network in healthy adult rabbit retina using connectome RC1 and 2) evaluate changes in coupling motifs in RPC1, a pathoconnectome from a rabbit retinal degeneration model.


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. RPC1 is a 0.07 mm diameter volume of degenerate retina from a transgenic P347L model of autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa (10-months old, male, New Zealand White background) presenting with ~50% rod loss. 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 network graph visualization. Gap junctions were validated by 0.25 nm resolution recapture with goniometric tilt when necessary.


Complete reconstruction of 37 ON CBCs in RC1 yielded 1339 gap junctions and revealed pervasive in- and cross-class coupling motifs among ON CBCs that produce complex network topologies within the coupled Aii network. Robust rulesets underlie class-specific coupling profiles with specificity defined beyond geometric opportunity. These coupling profiles enabled classification of all 145 ON CBCs contained within RC1 into 7 distinct classes. In RPC1, two ON CBC classes appear to retain their class-specific coupling profiles, accepting and rejecting specific combinations of Aii and ON CBC class partnerships. However, aberrant partnerships exist, including both loss of motifs and acquisition of novel ones.


Gap junctions formed by ON CBCs are prominent network components, with specificity rivaling that of chemical synapses. These gap junctions not only subserve canonical signal transfer for night vision, but also extensive coupling within and across the parallel processing streams. Clearly aberrant morphological and synaptic changes exist in RPC1, including changes in the coupling specificity of both Aii and ON CBCs. Thus, circuit topology is altered prior to complete loss of rods, with substantial implications for therapeutic interventions for blinding diseases that depend upon the surviving retinal network.