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author:("eichl, Leo")
1.  Thyroid Hormone Signaling in the Mouse Retina 
PLoS ONE  2016;11(12):e0168003.
Thyroid hormone is a crucial regulator of gene expression in the developing and adult retina. Here we sought to map sites of thyroid hormone signaling at the cellular level using the transgenic FINDT3 reporter mouse model in which neurons express β-galactosidase (β-gal) under the control of a hybrid Gal4-TRα receptor when triiodothyronine (T3) and cofactors of thyroid receptor signaling are present. In the adult retina, nearly all neurons of the ganglion cell layer (GCL, ganglion cells and displaced amacrine cells) showed strong β-gal labeling. In the inner nuclear layer (INL), a minority of glycineric and GABAergic amacrine cells showed β-gal labeling, whereas the majority of amacrine cells were unlabeled. At the level of amacrine types, β-gal labeling was found in a large proportion of the glycinergic AII amacrines, but only in a small proportion of the cholinergic/GABAergic ‘starburst’ amacrines. At postnatal day 10, there also was a high density of strongly β-gal-labeled neurons in the GCL, but only few amacrine cells were labeled in the INL. There was no labeling of bipolar cells, horizontal cells and Müller glia cells at both stages. Most surprisingly, the photoreceptor somata in the outer nuclear layer also showed no β-gal label, although thyroid hormone is known to control cone opsin expression. This is the first record of thyroid hormone signaling in the inner retina of an adult mammal. We hypothesize that T3 levels in photoreceptors are below the detection threshold of the reporter system. The topographical distribution of β-gal-positive cells in the GCL follows the overall neuron distribution in that layer, with more T3-signaling cells in the ventral than the dorsal half-retina.
PMCID: PMC5152892  PMID: 27942035
2.  Seasonally Changing Cryptochrome 1b Expression in the Retinal Ganglion Cells of a Migrating Passerine Bird 
PLoS ONE  2016;11(3):e0150377.
Cryptochromes, blue-light absorbing proteins involved in the circadian clock, have been proposed to be the receptor molecules of the avian magnetic compass. In birds, several cryptochromes occur: Cryptochrome 2, Cryptochrome 4 and two splice products of Cryptochrome 1, Cry1a and Cry1b. With an antibody not distinguishing between the two splice products, Cryptochrome 1 had been detected in the retinal ganglion cells of garden warblers during migration. A recent study located Cry1a in the outer segments of UV/V-cones in the retina of domestic chickens and European robins, another migratory species. Here we report the presence of cryptochrome 1b (eCry1b) in retinal ganglion cells and displaced ganglion cells of European Robins, Erithacus rubecula. Immuno-histochemistry at the light microscopic and electron microscopic level showed eCry1b in the cell plasma, free in the cytosol as well as bound to membranes. This is supported by immuno-blotting. However, this applies only to robins in the migratory state. After the end of the migratory phase, the amount of eCry1b was markedly reduced and hardly detectable. In robins, the amount of eCry1b in the retinal ganglion cells varies with season: it appears to be strongly expressed only during the migratory period when the birds show nocturnal migratory restlessness. Since the avian magnetic compass does not seem to be restricted to the migratory phase, this seasonal variation makes a role of eCry1b in magnetoreception rather unlikely. Rather, it could be involved in physiological processes controlling migratory restlessness and thus enabling birds to perform their nocturnal flights.
PMCID: PMC4783048  PMID: 26953690
3.  Cryptochrome 1 in Retinal Cone Photoreceptors Suggests a Novel Functional Role in Mammals 
Scientific Reports  2016;6:21848.
Cryptochromes are a ubiquitous group of blue-light absorbing flavoproteins that in the mammalian retina have an important role in the circadian clock. In birds, cryptochrome 1a (Cry1a), localized in the UV/violet-sensitive S1 cone photoreceptors, is proposed to be the retinal receptor molecule of the light-dependent magnetic compass. The retinal localization of mammalian Cry1, homologue to avian Cry1a, is unknown, and it is open whether mammalian Cry1 is also involved in magnetic field sensing. To constrain the possible role of retinal Cry1, we immunohistochemically analysed 90 mammalian species across 48 families in 16 orders, using an antiserum against the Cry1 C-terminus that in birds labels only the photo-activated conformation. In the Carnivora families Canidae, Mustelidae and Ursidae, and in some Primates, Cry1 was consistently labeled in the outer segment of the shortwave-sensitive S1 cones. This finding would be compatible with a magnetoreceptive function of Cry1 in these taxa. In all other taxa, Cry1 was not detected by the antiserum that likely also in mammals labels the photo-activated conformation, although Western blots showed Cry1 in mouse retinal cell nuclei. We speculate that in the mouse and the other negative-tested mammals Cry1 is involved in circadian functions as a non-light-responsive protein.
PMCID: PMC4761878  PMID: 26898837
4.  Magnetoreception in birds: I. Immunohistochemical studies concerning the cryptochrome cycle 
The Journal of Experimental Biology  2014;217(23):4221-4224.
Cryptochrome 1a, located in the UV/violet-sensitive cones in the avian retina, is discussed as receptor molecule for the magnetic compass of birds. Our previous immunohistochemical studies of chicken retinae with an antiserum that labelled only activated cryptochrome 1a had shown activation of cryptochrome 1a under 373 nm UV, 424 nm blue, 502 nm turquoise and 565 nm green light. Green light, however, does not allow the first step of photoreduction of oxidized cryptochromes to the semiquinone. As the chickens had been kept under ‘white’ light before, we suggested that there was a supply of the semiquinone present at the beginning of the exposure to green light, which could be further reduced and then re-oxidized. To test this hypothesis, we exposed chickens to various wavelengths (1) for 30 min after being kept in daylight, (2) for 30 min after a 30 min pre-exposure to total darkness, and (3) for 1 h after being kept in daylight. In the first case, we found activated cryptochrome 1a under UV, blue, turquoise and green light; in the second two cases we found activated cryptochrome 1a only under UV to turquoise light, where the complete redox cycle of cryptochrome can run, but not under green light. This observation is in agreement with the hypothesis that activated cryptochrome 1a is found as long as there is some of the semiquinone left, but not when the supply is depleted. It supports the idea that the crucial radical pair for magnetoreception is generated during re-oxidation.
PMCID: PMC4254396  PMID: 25472972
Magnetic compass; Cryptochrome 1a; Flavin cycle; Photoreduction; Activated Cry1a; Radical pair mechanisms
5.  DNA methylation reader MECP2: cell type- and differentiation stage-specific protein distribution 
Methyl-CpG binding protein 2 (MECP2) is a protein that specifically binds methylated DNA, thus regulating transcription and chromatin organization. Mutations in the gene have been identified as the principal cause of Rett syndrome, a severe neurological disorder. Although the role of MECP2 has been extensively studied in nervous tissues, still very little is known about its function and cell type specific distribution in other tissues.
Using immunostaining on tissue cryosections, we characterized the distribution of MECP2 in 60 cell types of 16 mouse neuronal and non-neuronal tissues. We show that MECP2 is expressed at a very high level in all retinal neurons except rod photoreceptors. The onset of its expression during retina development coincides with massive synapse formation. In contrast to astroglia, retinal microglial cells lack MECP2, similar to microglia in the brain, cerebellum, and spinal cord. MECP2 is also present in almost all non-neural cell types, with the exception of intestinal epithelial cells, erythropoietic cells, and hair matrix keratinocytes. Our study demonstrates the role of MECP2 as a marker of the differentiated state in all studied cells other than oocytes and spermatogenic cells. MECP2-deficient male (Mecp2-/y ) mice show no apparent defects in the morphology and development of the retina. The nuclear architecture of retinal neurons is also unaffected as the degree of chromocenter fusion and the distribution of major histone modifications do not differ between Mecp2-/y and Mecp2 wt mice. Surprisingly, the absence of MECP2 is not compensated by other methyl-CpG binding proteins. On the contrary, their mRNA levels were downregulated in Mecp2-/y mice.
MECP2 is almost universally expressed in all studied cell types with few exceptions, including microglia. MECP2 deficiency does not change the nuclear architecture and epigenetic landscape of retinal cells despite the missing compensatory expression of other methyl-CpG binding proteins. Furthermore, retinal development and morphology are also preserved in Mecp2-null mice. Our study reveals the significance of MECP2 function in cell differentiation and sets the basis for future investigations in this direction.
PMCID: PMC4148084  PMID: 25170345
MECP2; MBD; Histone modifications; Nuclear architecture; Mouse retina; Retina development; Mouse tissues
6.  Retinal Cone Photoreceptors of the Deer Mouse Peromyscus maniculatus: Development, Topography, Opsin Expression and Spectral Tuning 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e80910.
A quantitative analysis of photoreceptor properties was performed in the retina of the nocturnal deer mouse, Peromyscus maniculatus, using pigmented (wildtype) and albino animals. The aim was to establish whether the deer mouse is a more suitable model species than the house mouse for photoreceptor studies, and whether oculocutaneous albinism affects its photoreceptor properties. In retinal flatmounts, cone photoreceptors were identified by opsin immunostaining, and their numbers, spectral types, and distributions across the retina were determined. Rod photoreceptors were counted using differential interference contrast microscopy. Pigmented P. maniculatus have a rod-dominated retina with rod densities of about 450.000/mm2 and cone densities of 3000 - 6500/mm2. Two cone opsins, shortwave sensitive (S) and middle-to-longwave sensitive (M), are present and expressed in distinct cone types. Partial sequencing of the S opsin gene strongly supports UV sensitivity of the S cone visual pigment. The S cones constitute a 5-15% minority of the cones. Different from house mouse, S and M cone distributions do not have dorsoventral gradients, and coexpression of both opsins in single cones is exceptional (<2% of the cones). In albino P. maniculatus, rod densities are reduced by approximately 40% (270.000/mm2). Overall, cone density and the density of cones exclusively expressing S opsin are not significantly different from pigmented P. maniculatus. However, in albino retinas S opsin is coexpressed with M opsin in 60-90% of the cones and therefore the population of cones expressing only M opsin is significantly reduced to 5-25%. In conclusion, deer mouse cone properties largely conform to the general mammalian pattern, hence the deer mouse may be better suited than the house mouse for the study of certain basic cone properties, including the effects of albinism on cone opsin expression.
PMCID: PMC3829927  PMID: 24260509
7.  Magnetoreception: activated cryptochrome 1a concurs with magnetic orientation in birds 
The radical pair model proposes that the avian magnetic compass is based on radical pair processes in the eye, with cryptochrome, a flavoprotein, suggested as receptor molecule. Cryptochrome 1a (Cry1a) is localized at the discs of the outer segments of the UV/violet cones of European robins and chickens. Here, we show the activation characteristics of a bird cryptochrome in vivo under natural conditions. We exposed chickens for 30 min to different light regimes and analysed the amount of Cry1a labelled with an antiserum against an epitope at the C-terminus of this protein. The staining after exposure to sunlight and to darkness indicated that the antiserum labels only an illuminated, activated form of Cry1a. Exposure to narrow-bandwidth lights of various wavelengths revealed activated Cry1a at UV, blue and turquoise light. With green and yellow, the amount of activated Cry1a was reduced, and with red, as in the dark, no activated Cry1a was labelled. Activated Cry1a is thus found at all those wavelengths at which birds can orient using their magnetic inclination compass, supporting the role of Cry1a as receptor molecule. The observation that activated Cry1a and well-oriented behaviour occur at 565 nm green light, a wavelength not absorbed by the fully oxidized form of cryptochrome, suggests that a state other than the previously suggested Trp•/FAD• radical pair formed during photoreduction is crucial for detecting magnetic directions.
PMCID: PMC3785833  PMID: 23966619
magnetic compass; cryptochrome 1a; photoreceptor; flavin cycle; conformational change
8.  Expression and Evolution of Short Wavelength Sensitive Opsins in Colugos: A Nocturnal Lineage That Informs Debate on Primate Origins 
Evolutionary Biology  2013;40(4):542-553.
A nocturnal activity pattern is central to almost all hypotheses on the adaptive origins of primates. This enduring view has been challenged in recent years on the basis of variation in the opsin genes of nocturnal primates. A correspondence between the opsin genes and activity patterns of species in Euarchonta—the superordinal group that includes the orders Primates, Dermoptera (colugos), and Scandentia (treeshrews)—could prove instructive, yet the basic biology of the dermopteran visual system is practically unknown. Here we show that the eye of the Sunda colugo (Galeopterus variegatus) lacks a tapetum lucidum and has an avascular retina, and we report on the expression and spectral sensitivity of cone photopigments. We found that Sunda colugos have intact short wavelength sensitive (S-) and long wavelength sensitive (L-) opsin genes, and that both opsins are expressed in cone photoreceptors of the retina. The inferred peak spectral sensitivities are 451 and 562 nm, respectively. In line with adaptation to nocturnal vision, cone densities are low. Surprisingly, a majority of S-cones coexpress some L-opsin. We also show that the ratio of rates of nonsynonymous to synonymous substitutions of exon 1 of the S-opsin gene is indicative of purifying selection. Taken together, our results suggest that natural selection has favored a functional S-opsin in a nocturnal lineage for at least 45 million years. Accordingly, a nocturnal activity pattern remains the most likely ancestral character state of euprimates.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11692-013-9230-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3832777  PMID: 24293738
Retina; Visual pigment; Dermoptera; Scandentia; Primates
9.  Avian ultraviolet/violet cones as magnetoreceptors 
In a recent paper, we described the localization of cryptochrome 1a in the retina of domestic chickens, Gallus gallus, and European robins, Erithacus rubecula: Cryptochrome 1a was found exclusively along the membranes of the disks in the outer segments of the ultraviolet/violet single cones. Cryptochrome has been suggested to act as receptor molecule for the avian magnetic compass, which would mean that the UV/V cones have a double function: they mediate vision in the short-wavelength range and, at the same time, magnetic directional information. This has important implications and raises a number of questions, in particular, how the two types of input are separated. Here, we point out several possibilities how this could be achieved. 
PMCID: PMC3306339  PMID: 22446535
10.  Avian Ultraviolet/Violet Cones Identified as Probable Magnetoreceptors 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e20091.
The Radical-Pair-Model postulates that the reception of magnetic compass directions in birds is based on spin-chemical reactions in specialized photopigments in the eye, with cryptochromes discussed as candidate molecules. But so far, the exact subcellular characterization of these molecules in the retina remained unknown.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We here describe the localization of cryptochrome 1a (Cry1a) in the retina of European robins, Erithacus rubecula, and domestic chickens, Gallus gallus, two species that have been shown to use the magnetic field for compass orientation. In both species, Cry1a is present exclusively in the ultraviolet/violet (UV/V) cones that are distributed across the entire retina. Electron microscopy shows Cry1a in ordered bands along the membrane discs of the outer segment, and cell fractionation reveals Cry1a in the membrane fraction, suggesting the possibility that Cry1a is anchored along membranes.
We provide first structural evidence that Cry1a occurs within a sensory structure arranged in a way that fulfils essential requirements of the Radical-Pair-Model. Our findings, identifying the UV/V-cones as probable magnetoreceptors, support the assumption that Cry1a is indeed the receptor molecule mediating information on magnetic directions, and thus provide the Radical-Pair-Model with a profound histological background.
PMCID: PMC3102070  PMID: 21647441
11.  Novel Rodent Models for Macular Research 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(10):e13403.
Many disabling human retinal disorders involve the central retina, particularly the macula. However, the commonly used rodent models in research, mouse and rat, do not possess a macula. The purpose of this study was to identify small laboratory rodents with a significant central region as potential new models for macular research.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Gerbillus perpallidus, Meriones unguiculatus and Phodopus campbelli, laboratory rodents less commonly used in retinal research, were subjected to confocal scanning laser ophthalmoscopy (cSLO), fluorescein and indocyanine green angiography, and spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) using standard equipment (Heidelberg Engineering HRA1 and Spectralis™) adapted to small rodent eyes. The existence of a visual streak-like pattern was assessed on the basis of vascular topography, retinal thickness, and the topography of retinal ganglion cells and cone photoreceptors. All three species examined showed evidence of a significant horizontal streak-like specialization. cSLO angiography and retinal wholemounts revealed that superficial retinal blood vessels typically ramify and narrow into a sparse capillary net at the border of the respective area located dorsal to the optic nerve. Similar to the macular region, there was an absence of larger blood vessels in the streak region. Furthermore, the thickness of the photoreceptor layer and the population density of neurons in the ganglion cell layer were markedly increased in the visual streak region.
The retinal specializations of Gerbillus perpallidus, Meriones unguiculatus and Phodopus campbelli resemble features of the primate macula. Hence, the rodents reported here may serve to study aspects of macular development and diseases like age-related macular degeneration and diabetic macular edema, and the preclinical assessment of therapeutic strategies.
PMCID: PMC2955520  PMID: 20976212
12.  Bat Eyes Have Ultraviolet-Sensitive Cone Photoreceptors 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(7):e6390.
Mammalian retinae have rod photoreceptors for night vision and cone photoreceptors for daylight and colour vision. For colour discrimination, most mammals possess two cone populations with two visual pigments (opsins) that have absorption maxima at short wavelengths (blue or ultraviolet light) and long wavelengths (green or red light). Microchiropteran bats, which use echolocation to navigate and forage in complete darkness, have long been considered to have pure rod retinae. Here we use opsin immunohistochemistry to show that two phyllostomid microbats, Glossophaga soricina and Carollia perspicillata, possess a significant population of cones and express two cone opsins, a shortwave-sensitive (S) opsin and a longwave-sensitive (L) opsin. A substantial population of cones expresses S opsin exclusively, whereas the other cones mostly coexpress L and S opsin. S opsin gene analysis suggests ultraviolet (UV, wavelengths <400 nm) sensitivity, and corneal electroretinogram recordings reveal an elevated sensitivity to UV light which is mediated by an S cone visual pigment. Therefore bats have retained the ancestral UV tuning of the S cone pigment. We conclude that bats have the prerequisite for daylight vision, dichromatic colour vision, and UV vision. For bats, the UV-sensitive cones may be advantageous for visual orientation at twilight, predator avoidance, and detection of UV-reflecting flowers for those that feed on nectar.
PMCID: PMC2712075  PMID: 19636375

Results 1-12 (12)