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Biol Open. 2012 Jan 15;1(1):30-6. doi: 10.1242/bio.2011016. Epub 2011 Oct 24.

Generation of a genetically encoded marker of rod photoreceptor outer segment growth and renewal.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts , Amherst, MA 01003 , USA ; Molecular and Cellular Biology Program, University of Massachusetts , Amherst, MA 01003 , USA.

Abstract

Vertebrate photoreceptors are specialized light sensing neurons. The photoreceptor outer segment is a highly modified cilium where photons of light are transduced into a chemical and electrical signal. The outer segment has the typical cilary axoneme but, in addition, it has a large number of densely packed, stacked, intramembranous discs. The molecular and cellular mechanisms that contribute to vertebrate photoreceptor outer segment morphogenesis are still largely unknown. Unlike typical cilia, the outer segment is continuously regenerated or renewed throughout the life of the animal through the combined process of distal outer segment shedding and proximal outer segment growth. The process of outer segment renewal was discovered over forty years ago, but we still lack an understanding of how photoreceptors renew their outer segments and few, if any, molecular mechanisms that regulate outer segment growth or shedding have been described. Our lack of progress in understanding how photoreceptors renew their outer segments has been hampered by the difficulty in measuring rates of renewal. We have created a new method that uses heat-shock induction of a fluorescent protein that can be used to rapidly measure outer segment growth rates. We describe this method, the stable transgenic line we created, and the growth rates observed in larval and adult rod photoreceptors using this new method. This new method will allow us to begin to define the genetic and molecular mechanisms that regulate rod outer segment renewal, a crucial aspect of photoreceptor function and, possibly, viability.

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