Robust cone-mediated signaling persists late into rod photoreceptor degeneration.
Rod photoreceptor degeneration causes deterioration in the morphology and physiology of cone photoreceptors along with changes in retinal circuits. These changes could diminish visual signaling at cone-mediated light levels, thereby limiting the efficacy of treatments such as gene therapy for rescuing normal, cone-mediated vision. However, the impact of progressive rod death on cone-mediated signaling remains unclear. To investigate the fidelity of retinal ganglion cell (RGC) signaling throughout disease progression, we used a mouse model of rod degeneration (Cngb1neo/neo). Despite clear deterioration of cone morphology with rod death, cone-mediated signaling among RGCs remained surprisingly robust: spatiotemporal receptive fields changed little and the mutual information between stimuli and spiking responses was relatively constant. This relative stability held until nearly all rods had died and cones had completely lost well-formed outer segments. Interestingly, RGC information rates were higher and more stable for natural movies than checkerboard noise as degeneration progressed. The main change in RGC responses with photoreceptor degeneration was a decrease in response gain. These results suggest that gene therapies for rod degenerative diseases are likely to prolong cone-mediated vision even if there are changes to cone morphology and density.
Scalabrino, ML; Thapa, M; Chew, LA; Zhang, E; Xu, J; Sampath, AP; Chen, J; Field, GD
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