Category Archives: Ultrastructure

Subretinal Rather Than Intravitreal Adeno-Associated Virus–Mediated Delivery of a Complement Alternative Pathway Inhibitor Is Effective in a Mouse Model of RPE Damage

We have a new manuscript out in iOVS, Subretinal Rather Than Intravitreal Adeno-Associated Virus–Mediated Delivery of a Complement Alternative Pathway Inhibitor Is Effective in a Mouse Model of RPE Damage. (pdf here)

Authors: Balasubramaniam Annamalai; Nathaniel Parsons; Crystal Nicholson; Elisabeth Obert; Bryan W. Jones @BWJones; and Bärbel Rohrer.


Purpose: The risk for age-related macular degeneration has been tied to an overactive complement system. Despite combined attempts by academia and industry to develop therapeutics that modulate the complement response, particularly in the late geographic atrophy form of advanced AMD, to date, there is no effective treatment. We have previously demonstrated that pathology in the smoke-induced ocular pathology (SIOP) model, a model with similarities to dry AMD, is dependent on activation of the alternative complement pathway and that a novel complement activation site targeted inhibitor of the alternative pathway can be delivered to ocular tissues via an adeno-associated virus (AAV).

Methods: Two different viral vectors for specific tissue targeting were compared: AAV5-VMD2-CR2-fH for delivery to the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and AAV2YF-smCBA-CR2-fH for delivery to retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). Efficacy was tested in SIOP (6 months of passive smoke inhalation), assessing visual function (optokinetic responses), retinal structure (optical coherence tomography), and integrity of the RPE and Bruch’s membrane (electron microscopy). Protein chemistry was used to assess complement activation, CR2-fH tissue distribution, and CR2-fH transport across the RPE.

Results: RPE- but not RGC-mediated secretion of CR2-fH was found to reduce SIOP and complement activation in RPE/choroid. Bioavailability of CR2-fH in RPE/choroid could be confirmed only after AAV5-VMD2-CR2-fH treatment, and inefficient, adenosine triphosphate–dependent transport of CR2-fH across the RPE was identified.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that complement inhibition for AMD-like pathology is required basal to the RPE and argues in favor of AAV vector delivery to the RPE or outside the blood-retina barrier.

Chapter: Retinal Connectomics

We have a new chapter out in the Elsevier book series The Senses, 2021.

Authors are myself, Bryan W. Jones @BWJones and Robert E. Marc @robertmarc60.

Abstract: The retina is both a light sensor and a highly complex image-processing device – like supercomputers at the backs of eyes. The retina is also wonderfully compact with all circuitry (glia, neurons, synapses and gap junctions) required to compute sensory input, making it a convenient model for understanding the rest of the nervous system. This is also true for disease, with early evidence indicating retina may be a good model for studying progressive neural degenerative diseases. Modern ultrastructural approaches to the study of neural connections is a relatively new !eld has been termed “connectomics”. Connectomics approaches applied to the retina is termed retinal connectomics. These approaches are relatively new !elds that leverage modern technologies in light and ultrastructural imaging, computational storage, and data management to allow tracking of neuronal identity and connectivity, delivering a robust edge/node network map of circuit topologies. Understanding circuit topologies is critical to understanding how retinas process information, and how information processing is corrupted in disease. This chapter summarizes early history, discusses technical aspects of imaging connectomes, justi!es the importance of why connectomics approaches are important, particularly in retina, discusses what has been learned from early efforts in connectomics, and points the way to the next steps.

Please email me: if you would like a pdf of the chapter.


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.

Network Architecture of Gap Junctional Coupling among Parallel Processing Channels in the Mammalian Retina

We have a new manuscript out in The Journal of Neuroscience, Network Architecture of Gap Junctional Coupling among Parallel Processing Channels in the Mammalian Retina.

Authors: Crystal L. Sigulinsky @CLSigulinsky, James R. Anderson, Ethan Kerzner @EthanKerzner, Christopher N. Rapp @ChrisNRapp, Rebecca L. Pfeiffer @BeccaPfeiffer19, Taryn M. Rodman, Daniel P. Emrich, Kevin D. Rapp, Noah T. Nelson @nooneelseinhere, J. Scott Lauritzen, Miriah Meyer@miriah_meyer, Robert E. Marc @robertmarc60, and Bryan W. Jones @BWJones.

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.

Immunization Against Oxidized Elastin Exacerbates Structural and Functional Damage in Mouse Model of Smoke-Induced Ocular Injury

We have a new manuscript out in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, Immunization Against Oxidized Elastin Exacerbates Structural and Functional Damage in Mouse Model of Smoke-Induced Ocular Injury

Authors: Balasubramaniam Annamalai; Crystal Nicholson; Nathaniel Parsons; Sarah Stephenson; Carl Atkinson; Bryan Jones; and Bärbel Rohrer.

Purpose: Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in Western populations. While an overactive complement system has been linked to pathogenesis, mechanisms contributing to its activation are largely unknown. In aged and AMD eyes, loss of the elastin layer (EL) of Bruch’s membrane (BrM) has been reported. Elastin antibodies are elevated in patients with AMD, the pathogenic significance of which is unclear. Here we assess the role of elastin antibodies using a mouse model of smoke-induced ocular pathology (SIOP), which similarly demonstrates EL loss.

Methods: C57BL/6J mice were immunized with elastin or elastin peptide oxidatively modified by cigarette smoke (ox-elastin). Mice were then exposed to cigarette smoke or air for 6 months. Visual function was assessed by optokinetic response, retinal morphology by spectral-domain optical coherence tomography and electron microscopy, and complement activation and antibody deposition by Western blot.

Results: Ox-elastin IgG and IgM antibodies were elevated in ox-elastin immunized mice following 6 months of smoke, whereas elastin immunization had a smaller effect. Ox-elastin immunization exacerbated smoke-induced vision loss, with thicker BrM and more damaged retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) mitochondria compared with mice immunized with elastin or nonimmunized controls. These changes were correlated with increased levels of IgM, IgG2, IgG3, and complement activation products in RPE/choroid.

Conclusions: These data demonstrate that SIOP mice generate elastin-specific antibodies and that immunization with ox-elastin exacerbates ocular pathology. Elastin antibodies represented complement fixing isotypes that, together with the increased presence of complement activation seen in immunized mice, suggest that elastin antibodies exert pathogenic effects through mediating complement activation.

Optic Cup Morphogenesis Requires Neural Crest-Mediated Basement Membrane Assembly

We have a new manuscript out in Development, Optic cup morphogenesis requires neural crest-mediated basement membrane assembly.

Authors: Chase D. Bryan @CDBE30, Macaulie A. Casey, Rebecca L. Pfeiffer @BeccaPfeiffer19, Bryan W. Jones @BWJones, and Kristen M. Kwan @BlockInTheBack

This is a collaborative project out of the Kwan lab that we helped out with some of the ultrastructural work and analysis.

Abstract: Organogenesis requires precise interactions between a developing tissue and its environment. In vertebrates, the developing eye is surrounded by a complex extracellular matrix as well as multiple mesenchymal cell populations. Disruptions to either the matrix or periocular mesenchyme can cause defects in early eye development, yet in many cases, the underlying mechanism is unknown. Here, using multidimensional imaging and computational analyses in zebrafish, we establish that cell movements in the developing optic cup require neural crest. Ultrastructural analysis reveals that basement membrane formation around the developing eye is also dependent on neural crest, but only specifically around the retinal pigment epithelium. Neural crest cells produce the extracellular matrix protein nidogen: impairing nidogen function disrupts eye development, and strikingly, expression of nidogen in the absence of neural crest partially restores optic cup morphogenesis. These results demonstrate that eye formation is regulated in part by extrinsic control of extracellular matrix assembly.

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 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.