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author:("derek, Karin")
1.  Identification of a Common Non-Apoptotic Cell Death Mechanism in Hereditary Retinal Degeneration 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(11):e112142.
Cell death in neurodegenerative diseases is often thought to be governed by apoptosis; however, an increasing body of evidence suggests the involvement of alternative cell death mechanisms in neuronal degeneration. We studied retinal neurodegeneration using 10 different animal models, covering all major groups of hereditary human blindness (rd1, rd2, rd10, Cngb1 KO, Rho KO, S334ter, P23H, Cnga3 KO, cpfl1, Rpe65 KO), by investigating metabolic processes relevant for different forms of cell death. We show that apoptosis plays only a minor role in the inherited forms of retinal neurodegeneration studied, where instead, a non-apoptotic degenerative mechanism common to all mutants is of major importance. Hallmark features of this pathway are activation of histone deacetylase, poly-ADP-ribose-polymerase, and calpain, as well as accumulation of cyclic guanosine monophosphate and poly-ADP-ribose. Our work thus demonstrates the prevalence of alternative cell death mechanisms in inherited retinal degeneration and provides a rational basis for the design of mutation-independent treatments.
PMCID: PMC4230983  PMID: 25392995
2.  AII amacrine cells discriminate between heterocellular and homocellular locations when assembling connexin36-containing gap junctions 
Journal of Cell Science  2014;127(6):1190-1202.
Electrical synapses (gap junctions) rapidly transmit signals between neurons and are composed of connexins. In neurons, connexin36 (Cx36) is the most abundant isoform; however, the mechanisms underlying formation of Cx36-containing electrical synapses are unknown. We focus on homocellular and heterocellular gap junctions formed by an AII amacrine cell, a key interneuron found in all mammalian retinas. In mice lacking native Cx36 but expressing a variant tagged with enhanced green fluorescent protein at the C-terminus (KO-Cx36-EGFP), heterocellular gap junctions formed between AII cells and ON cone bipolar cells are fully functional, whereas homocellular gap junctions between two AII cells are not formed. A tracer injected into an AII amacrine cell spreads into ON cone bipolar cells but is excluded from other AII cells. Reconstruction of Cx36–EGFP clusters on an AII cell in the KO-Cx36-EGFP genotype confirmed that the number, but not average size, of the clusters is reduced – as expected for AII cells lacking a subset of electrical synapses. Our studies indicate that some neurons exhibit at least two discriminatory mechanisms for assembling Cx36. We suggest that employing different gap-junction-forming mechanisms could provide the means for a cell to regulate its gap junctions in a target-cell-specific manner, even if these junctions contain the same connexin.
PMCID: PMC3953814  PMID: 24463820
Gap junction; Electrical synapse; connexin; Amacrine cell; Bipolar cell; Retina
3.  Cell-Specific Cre Recombinase Expression Allows Selective Ablation of Glutamate Receptors from Mouse Horizontal Cells 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e83076.
In the mouse retina, horizontal cells form an electrically coupled network and provide feedback signals to photoreceptors and feedforward signals to bipolar cells. Thereby, horizontal cells contribute to gain control at the first visual synapse and to the antagonistic organization of bipolar and ganglion cell receptive fields. However, the nature of horizontal cell output remains a matter of debate, just as the exact contribution of horizontal cells to center-surround antagonism. To facilitate studying horizontal cell function, we developed a knockin mouse line which allows ablating genes exclusively in horizontal cells. This knockin line expresses a Cre recombinase under the promoter of connexin57 (Cx57), a gap junction protein only expressed in horizontal cells. Consistently, in Cx57+/Cre mice, Cre recombinase is expressed in almost all horizontal cells (>99%) and no other retinal neurons. To test Cre activity, we crossbred Cx57+/Cre mice with a mouse line in which exon 11 of the coding sequence for the ionotropic glutamate receptor subunit GluA4 was flanked by two loxP sites (GluA4fl/fl). In GluA4fl/fl:Cx57+/Cre mice, GluA4 immunoreactivity was significantly reduced (∼50%) in the outer retina where horizontal cells receive photoreceptor inputs, confirming the functionality of the Cre/loxP system. Whole-cell patch-clamp recordings from isolated horizontal cell somata showed a reduction of glutamate-induced inward currents by ∼75%, suggesting that the GluA4 subunit plays a major role in mediating photoreceptor inputs. The persistent current in GluA4-deficient cells is mostly driven by AMPA and to a very small extent by kainate receptors as revealed by application of the AMPA receptor antagonist GYKI52466 and concanavalin A, a potentiator of kainate receptor-mediated currents. In summary, the Cx57+/Cre mouse line provides a versatile tool for studying horizontal cell function. GluA4fl/fl:Cx57+/Cre mice, in which horizontal cells receive less excitatory input, can thus be used to analyze the contribution of horizontal cells to retinal processing.
PMCID: PMC3861464  PMID: 24349437
4.  Testing for a Gap Junction-Mediated Bystander Effect in Retinitis Pigmentosa: Secondary Cone Death Is Not Altered by Deletion of Connexin36 from Cones 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e57163.
Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) relates to a group of hereditary neurodegenerative diseases of the retina. On the cellular level, RP results in the primary death of rod photoreceptors, caused by rod-specific mutations, followed by a secondary degeneration of genetically normal cones. Different mechanisms may influence the spread of cell death from one photoreceptor type to the other. As one of these mechanisms a gap junction-mediated bystander effect was proposed, i.e., toxic molecules generated in dying rods and propagating through gap junctions induce the death of healthy cone photoreceptors. We investigated whether disruption of rod-cone coupling can prevent secondary cone death and reduce the spread of degeneration. We tested this hypothesis in two different mouse models for retinal degeneration (rhodopsin knockout and rd1) by crossbreeding them with connexin36-deficient mice as connexin36 represents the gap junction protein on the cone side and lack thereof most likely disrupts rod-cone coupling. Using immunohistochemistry, we compared the progress of cone degeneration between connexin36-deficient mouse mutants and their connexin36-expressing littermates at different ages and assessed the accompanied morphological changes during the onset (rhodopsin knockout) and later stages of secondary cone death (rd1 mutants). Connexin36-deficient mouse mutants showed the same time course of cone degeneration and the same morphological changes in second order neurons as their connexin36-expressing littermates. Thus, our results indicate that disruption of connexin36-mediated rod-cone coupling does not stop, delay or spatially restrict secondary cone degeneration and suggest that the gap junction-mediated bystander effect does not contribute to the progression of RP.
PMCID: PMC3584123  PMID: 23468924
5.  Lack of the Sodium-Driven Chloride Bicarbonate Exchanger NCBE Impairs Visual Function in the Mouse Retina 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e46155.
Regulation of ion and pH homeostasis is essential for normal neuronal function. The sodium-driven chloride bicarbonate exchanger NCBE (Slc4a10), a member of the SLC4 family of bicarbonate transporters, uses the transmembrane gradient of sodium to drive cellular net uptake of bicarbonate and to extrude chloride, thereby modulating both intracellular pH (pHi) and chloride concentration ([Cl−]i) in neurons. Here we show that NCBE is strongly expressed in the retina. As GABAA receptors conduct both chloride and bicarbonate, we hypothesized that NCBE may be relevant for GABAergic transmission in the retina. Importantly, we found a differential expression of NCBE in bipolar cells: whereas NCBE was expressed on ON and OFF bipolar cell axon terminals, it only localized to dendrites of OFF bipolar cells. On these compartments, NCBE colocalized with the main neuronal chloride extruder KCC2, which renders GABA hyperpolarizing. NCBE was also expressed in starburst amacrine cells, but was absent from neurons known to depolarize in response to GABA, like horizontal cells. Mice lacking NCBE showed decreased visual acuity and contrast sensitivity in behavioral experiments and smaller b-wave amplitudes and longer latencies in electroretinograms. Ganglion cells from NCBE-deficient mice also showed altered temporal response properties. In summary, our data suggest that NCBE may serve to maintain intracellular chloride and bicarbonate concentration in retinal neurons. Consequently, lack of NCBE in the retina may result in changes in pHi regulation and chloride-dependent inhibition, leading to altered signal transmission and impaired visual function.
PMCID: PMC3467262  PMID: 23056253
6.  Electrophysiological Characterization of GFP-Expressing Cell Populations in the Intact Retina 
Studying the physiological properties and synaptic connections of specific neurons in the intact tissue is a challenge for those cells that lack conspicuous morphological features or show a low population density. This applies particularly to retinal amacrine cells, an exceptionally multiform class of interneurons that comprise roughly 30 subtypes in mammals1. Though being a crucial part of the visual processing by shaping the retinal output2, most of these subtypes have not been studied up to now in a functional context because encountering these cells with a recording electrode is a rare event.
Recently, a multitude of transgenic mouse lines is available that express fluorescent markers like green fluorescent protein (GFP) under the control of promoters for membrane receptors or enzymes that are specific to only a subset of neurons in a given tissue3,4. These pre-labeled cells are therefore accessible to directed microelectrode targeting under microscopic control, permitting the systematic study of their physiological properties in situ. However, excitation of fluorescent markers is accompanied by the risk of phototoxicity for the living tissue. In the retina, this approach is additionally hampered by the problem that excitation light causes appropriate stimulation of the photoreceptors, thus inflicting photopigment bleaching and transferring the retinal circuits into a light-adapted condition. These drawbacks are overcome by using infrared excitation delivered by a mode-locked laser in short pulses of the femtosecond range. Two-photon excitation provides energy sufficient for fluorophore excitation and at the same time restricts the excitation to a small tissue volume minimizing the hazards of photodamage5. Also, it leaves the retina responsive to visual stimuli since infrared light (>850 nm) is only poorly absorbed by photopigments6.
In this article we demonstrate the use of a transgenic mouse retina to attain electrophysiological in situ recordings from GFP-expressing cells that are visually targeted by two-photon excitation. The retina is prepared and maintained in darkness and can be subjected to optical stimuli which are projected through the condenser of the microscope (Figure 1). Patch-clamp recording of light responses can be combined with dye filling to reveal the morphology and to check for gap junction-mediated dye coupling to neighboring cells, so that the target cell can by studied on different experimental levels.
PMCID: PMC3308615  PMID: 22105413
7.  Ganglion Cell Adaptability: Does the Coupling of Horizontal Cells Play a Role? 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(3):e1714.
The visual system can adjust itself to different visual environments. One of the most well known examples of this is the shift in spatial tuning that occurs in retinal ganglion cells with the change from night to day vision. This shift is thought to be produced by a change in the ganglion cell receptive field surround, mediated by a decrease in the coupling of horizontal cells.
Methodology/Principal Findings
To test this hypothesis, we used a transgenic mouse line, a connexin57-deficient line, in which horizontal cell coupling was abolished. Measurements, both at the ganglion cell level and the level of behavioral performance, showed no differences between wild-type retinas and retinas with decoupled horizontal cells from connexin57-deficient mice.
This analysis showed that the coupling and uncoupling of horizontal cells does not play a dominant role in spatial tuning and its adjustability to night and day light conditions. Instead, our data suggest that another mechanism, likely arising in the inner retina, must be responsible.
PMCID: PMC2246161  PMID: 18320035

Results 1-7 (7)