Uncovering genetic factors that mark subtypes of retinal ganglion cells
Glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness, is characterized by the death of ganglion cells in the retina. Ganglion cells serve as the final output neurons of the retina by gathering information and relaying it to the visual centers of the brain. It is estimated that there are at least 30 functionally distinct types of these cells in the retina; however, this is believed to be an underestimate as many of the types are rare and uncharacterized. Our lab has used single cell analyses to identify mRNAs expressed in different retinal ganglion cell types, following classification based on their morphology, function, or fluorescent protein expression. My project aims to characterize some of the candidate genetic factors identified in these analyses and asks whether they are, in fact, confined to a single type of retinal ganglion cell. Specifically, I examined gene expression using in situ hybridization on sections of mature retinal tissue. My results have revealed several genes expressed in subsets of retinal ganglion cells. However, it has proven challenging to identify factors expressed in just a single ganglion cell type and further detailed expression analysis will be necessary to determine whether they could be used to designate a specific ganglion cell subtype.