Light-activated channels targeted to ON bipolar cells restore visual function in retinal degeneration

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Genetically encoded optical neuromodulators create an opportunity for circuit-specific intervention in neurological diseases. One of the diseases most amenable to this approach is retinal degeneration, where the loss of photoreceptors leads to complete blindness. To restore photosensitivity, we genetically targeted a light-activated cation channel, channelrhodopsin-2, to second-order neurons, ON bipolar cells, of degenerated retinas in vivo in the Pde6brd1 (also known as rd1) mouse model. In the absence of 'classical' photoreceptors, we found that ON bipolar cells that were engineered to be photosensitive induced light-evoked spiking activity in ganglion cells. The rescue of light sensitivity was selective to the ON circuits that would naturally respond to increases in brightness. Despite degeneration of the outer retina, our intervention restored transient responses and center-surround organization of ganglion cells. The resulting signals were relayed to the visual cortex and were sufficient for the animals to successfully perform optomotor behavioral tasks.

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Figure 1: Schematic diagram illustrating photoreception driving retinal activity in wild-type retinas versus retinal degeneration retinas expressing ChR2 in ON bipolar cells.
Figure 2: ChR2 expression is selectively targeted to ON bipolar cells in wild-type and rd1 mouse retinas.
Figure 3: Selective expression of ChR2 in ON bipolar cells restores light responsiveness in rd1 retinas lacking photoreceptors.
Figure 4: Spatial and temporal properties of ganglion cells in e-rd1 retinas.
Figure 5: Excitatory and inhibitory input to retinal ganglion cells in e-rd1 retinas.
Figure 6: Visual-evoked potentials are detected in the visual cortex of e-rd1 mice.
Figure 7: Light induces changes in locomotor activity.
Figure 8: Visual spatial acuity of rescued e-rd1 mice.


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We thank B.G. Scherf, S. Djaffer, Y. Shimada and F. Ronay for technical assistance, K. Deisseroth for kindly providing us with the pLECYT lentiviral vector, and A. Lüthi, S. Picaud, M. Fendt, M. Stadler and C. Herry for their suggestions or help with the behavioral experiments. This study was supported by Friedrich Miescher Institute funds, an US Office of Naval Research Naval International Cooperative Opportunities in Science and Technology Program grant, a Marie Curie Excellence Grant, a Human Frontier Science Program Young Investigator grant (B.R.), a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship (D.B. and T.A.M.), a National Center for Competence in Research in Genetics fellowship (V.B.) and a Human Frontier Science Program Fellowship (G.B.A.)

Author information

The Grm6 enhancer was developed by D.S.K. and C.L.C. The molecular biology, electroporations, immunohistochemistry and confocal microscopy experiments were carried out by P.S.L. V.B. performed electroporations. Multi-electrode array recordings and analyses, cortical recordings, behavioral experiments and software development were carried out by D.B. Patch-clamp experiments and two-photon microscopy were performed by G.B.A. and T.A.M. Experiments were designed by B.R., P.S.L., D.B. and G.B.A.

Correspondence to Botond Roska.

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Competing interests

Pamela S Lagali, David Balya, Thomas A Münch and Botond Roska have applied for a patent on the use of light-sensitive genes (WO 2008/022772).

Constance L Cepko, Douglas S Kim and Harvard University are submitting a patent application for the use of the Grm6 regulatory elements described in this publication.

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