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Freya Mowat, UCL
Confocal micrograph of a retina from a one-month-old juvenile mouse. The retina is the photoreceptive organ of the eye. Due to the large size of the whole structure, this image was created by 'stitching' together six smaller images and carefully aligning them. One side was then reflected, to create the perfect symmetry and aesthetic quality you see in the image.
What does it show?
This fluorescent image shows the detailed structure of the mouse retina. It comprises layers of neuronal cells that capture and transmit light information, converting it to electrical signals that the brain can interpret. Fluorescent markers have been used to highlight different classes of these cells within the retina. Green staining highlights glial cells, which act as neuronal supporting cells and produce the protective conductive layer myelin. Red fluorescence marks astrocytes, star-shaped glial cells that provide nutrients to developing neurons and regulate neuronal activity. The blue fluorescence marks cell nuclei.
Why is it important to study the retina?
This eye was imaged for an experiment carried out during Freya Mowat's PhD, which examined the stress observed in the retina as a result of oxygen deprivation. The aim was to examine whether hypoxia early in life affects retinal function. The mouse provides a useful model of human disease and shows that hypoxia has detrimental effects on retinal function; these studies are helping scientists to understand why premature babies develop retinal disease when born too early.
Establishing what causes these defects can allow medical advancements to correct them. Recently, a retinal implant changed the lives of three people with retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that causes the light-detecting cells to break down with age. Understanding the retina and how these cells work has allowed scientists to develop a small chip containing light-sensitive diodes that replace these defective cells, dramatically improving the vision of the patient.