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Retinal cells see up

A new type of retinal cell with tree-like dendrites detects upward motion, researchers report in today's linkurl:issue;;http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v452/n7186/abs/nature06739.html of __Nature.__ The method used in the current study to detect cell subtypes may prove useful in finding molecular markers of other retinal cells, as well as brain neurons. It was a fortuitous discovery, said author Markus Meister from Harvard University. The researchers had set out to look for retinal ce

By | March 26, 2008

A new type of retinal cell with tree-like dendrites detects upward motion, researchers report in today's linkurl:issue;;http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v452/n7186/abs/nature06739.html of __Nature.__ The method used in the current study to detect cell subtypes may prove useful in finding molecular markers of other retinal cells, as well as brain neurons. It was a fortuitous discovery, said author Markus Meister from Harvard University. The researchers had set out to look for retinal cell surface molecules important in connecting the various types of cells in the retina. They started by screening 200 immunoglobulin superfamily genes for their expression patterns in the retina. One marker, JAM-B, stood out. It was expressed in a matrix of cells which were fairly evenly spaced from one another. "That's sort of a tip-off in the retina," which indicates the marker is cell-type specific, said Meister. They stained the JAM-B cells and noticed an unusual morphology. The tree-like dendrites all faced downward, away from the cell body. In most retinal ganglion cells, the dendrites spread in all different directions around the cell body, Meister told __The Scientist.__ In order to find out the function of this unusually shaped subset, the authors isolated retinas and shined light across them in different directions. They saw that the cells preferentially fired in response to light that was moving downward (reversed by the lens and perceived as upward motion). It's a rare association between linkurl:form and function;http://www.the-scientist.com/2007/3/1/28/1/ in the retina, said Meister. More than defining a new cell type, the paper validates a new approach for identifying molecular markers of neuronal cell-types. By looking at the surface molecules, rather than their composite neurotransmitters, researchers may be able to stain and study subtypes of cells in the brain and more clearly define their function. "We're not going to understand how these circuits work if we can't tell these neurons apart," said Meister.
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