Functional integrity of visual coding following advanced photoreceptor degeneration

Jessica Rodgers, Steven Hughes, Moritz Lindner, Annette E. Allen, Aghileh S. Ebrahimi, Riccardo Storchi, Stuart N. Peirson, Robert J. Lucas, Mark W. Hankins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Photoreceptor degeneration sufficient to produce severe visual loss often spares the inner retina. This raises hope for vision restoration treatments using optogenetics or electrical stimulation, which generate a replacement light input signal in surviving neurons. The success of these approaches is dependent on the capacity of surviving circuits of the visual system to generate and propagate an appropriate visual code in the face of neuroanatomical remodeling. To determine whether retinally degenerate animals possess this capacity, we generated a transgenic mouse model expressing the optogenetic actuator ReaChR in ON bipolar cells (second-order neurons in the visual projection). After crossing this with the rd1 model of photoreceptor degeneration, we compared ReaChR-derived responses with photoreceptor-driven responses in wild-type (WT) mice at the level of retinal ganglion cells and the visual thalamus. The ReaChR-driven responses in rd1 animals showed low photosensitivity, but in other respects generated a visual code that was very similar to the WT. ReaChR rd1 responses had high trial-to-trial reproducibility and showed sensitivity normalization to code contrast across background intensities. At the single unit level, ReaChR-derived responses exhibited broadly similar variations in response polarity, contrast sensitivity, and temporal frequency tuning as the WT. Units from the WT and ReaChR rd1 mice clustered together when subjected to unsupervised community detection based on stimulus-response properties. Our data reveal an impressive ability for surviving circuitry to recreate a rich visual code following advanced retinal degeneration and are promising for regenerative medicine in the central nervous system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)474-486.e5
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2023


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