Dr. Stephen C. Massey
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
McGovern Medical School
Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences
Simply put, the goal of my research is to describe the neuronal circuitry of the retina. The organization of the mammalian retina is certainly complex but it is not chaotic. Although there are many cell types, most adhere to a relatively constant morphology and they are distributed in non-random mosaics. Furthermore, each cell type ramifies at a characteristic depth in the retina and makes a stereotyped set of synaptic connections. In other words, these neurons form a series of local circuits across the retina. The next step is to identify the simplest and commonest of these repeating neural circuits. They are the building blocks of retinal function. If we think of it in this way, the retina is a fabulous model for the rest of the CNS.
We are interested in identifying specific circuits and cell types that support the different functions of the retina. For example, there appear to be specific pathways for rod and cone mediated vision. Rods are used under low light conditions and rod circuitry is specialized for high sensitivity when photons are scarce (when you’re out camping, starlight). The hallmark of the rod-mediated system is monochromatic vision. In contrast, the cone circuits are specialized for high acuity and color vision under relatively bright or daylight conditions.
Individual neurons may be filled with fluorescent dyes under visual control. This is achieved by impaling the cell with a glass microelectrode using a 3D micromanipulator. We are also interested in the diffusion of dye through coupled neuronal networks in the retina. The dye filled cells are also combined with antibody labeling to reveal neuronal connections and circuits. This triple-labeled material may be viewed and reconstructed in 3 dimensions by multi-channel confocal microscopy. We have our own confocal microscope facility in the department and timeslots are available to students in my lab.