Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Blindness


Echolocation is the ability to use sound-echoes to infer spatial information about the environment. Some blind people have developed extraordinary proficiency in echolocation using mouth-clicks. The first step of human biosonar is the transmission (mouth click) and subsequent reception of the resultant sound through the ear. Existing head-related transfer function (HRTF) data bases provide descriptions of reception of the resultant sound. For the current report, we collected a large database of click emissions with three blind people expertly trained in echolocation, which allowed us to perform unprecedented analyses. Specifically, the current report provides the first ever description of the spatial distribution (i.e. beam pattern) of human expert echolocation transmissions, as well as spectro-temporal descriptions at a level of detail not available before. Our data show that transmission levels are fairly constant within a 60° cone emanating from the mouth, but levels drop gradually at further angles, more than for speech. In terms of spectro-temporal features, our data show that emissions are consistently very brief (~3ms duration) with peak frequencies 2-4kHz, but with energy also at 10kHz. This differs from previous reports of durations 3-15ms and peak frequencies 2-8kHz, which were based on less detailed measurements. Based on our measurements we propose to model transmissions as sum of monotones modulated by a decaying exponential, with angular attenuation by a modified cardioid. We provide model parameters for each echolocator. These results are a step towards developing computational models of human biosonar. For example, in bats, spatial and spectro-temporal features of emissions have been used to derive and test model based hypotheses about behaviour. The data we present here suggest similar research opportunities within the context of human echolocation. Relatedly, the data are a basis to develop synthetic models of human echolocation that could be virtual (i.e. simulated) or real (i.e. loudspeaker, microphones), and which will help understanding the link between physical principles and human behaviour.

Concepts: Signal processing, Animal echolocation, Sensory substitution, Behavior, Human behavior, Sound, Blindness, Sonar


To examine and interpret the variation in the incidence of blindness and sight impairment in England by PCT, as reported by the Certificate of Vision Impairment (CVI).

Concepts: Visual impairment, Blindness, Cortical visual impairment


The GUCY2D gene encodes retinal membrane guanylyl cyclase (RetGC1), a key component of the phototransduction machinery in photoreceptors. Mutations in GUCY2D cause Leber congenital amaurosis type 1 (LCA1), an autosomal recessive human retinal blinding disease. The effects of RetGC1 deficiency on human rod and cone photoreceptor structure and function are currently unknown. To move LCA1 closer to clinical trials, we characterized a cohort of patients (ages 6 mos - 37 yrs) with GUCY2D mutations. In vivo analyses of retinal architecture indicated intact rod photoreceptors in all patients but abnormalities in foveal cones. By functional phenotype, there were patients with and those without detectable cone vision. Rod vision could be retained and did not correlate with extent of cone vision or age. In patients without cone vision, rod vision functioned unsaturated under bright ambient illumination. In vitro analyses of the mutant alleles showed that in addition to the major truncation of the essential catalytic domain in RetGC1, some missense mutations in LCA1 patients result in a severe loss of function by inactivating its catalytic activity and/or ability to interact with the activator proteins, GCAPs. The differences in rod sensitivities among patients were not explained by the biochemical properties of the mutants. However, the RetGC1 mutant alleles with remaining biochemical activity in vitro were associated with retained cone vision in vivo. We postulate a relationship between the level of RetGC1 activity and the degree of cone vision abnormality, and argue for cone function being the efficacy outcome in clinical trials of gene augmentation therapy in LCA1.

Concepts: Mutation, Allele, Retina, Photoreceptor cell, Point mutation, Blindness, Leber's congenital amaurosis, GUCY2D


To provide an initial assessment of the safety of a recombinant adeno-associated virus vector expressing RPE65 (rAAV2-CB-hRPE65) in adults and children with retinal degeneration caused by RPE65 mutations.

Concepts: DNA, Ophthalmology, Adeno-associated virus, Gene therapy, Blindness, Leber's congenital amaurosis, Amaurosis, RPE65


Two patients presented with loss of vision after viewing a smartphone screen in bed in the dark. The cause appeared to be differential bleaching of photopigment, with one eye becoming light-adapted while the other eye (blocked by a pillow) became dark-adapted.

Concepts: Retina, Blindness, Vision loss


Researchers have shown that people often miss the occurrence of an unexpected yet salient event if they are engaged in a different task, a phenomenon known as inattentional blindness. However, demonstrations of inattentional blindness have typically involved naive observers engaged in an unfamiliar task. What about expert searchers who have spent years honing their ability to detect small abnormalities in specific types of images? We asked 24 radiologists to perform a familiar lung-nodule detection task. A gorilla, 48 times the size of the average nodule, was inserted in the last case that was presented. Eighty-three percent of the radiologists did not see the gorilla. Eye tracking revealed that the majority of those who missed the gorilla looked directly at its location. Thus, even expert searchers, operating in their domain of expertise, are vulnerable to inattentional blindness.

Concepts: Observation, Expert, Blindness, Expert witness, Miss


The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System (Second Sight Medical Products, Inc, Sylmar, CA) was developed to restore some vision to patients blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa (RP) or outer retinal degeneration. A clinical trial was initiated in 2006 to study the long-term safety and efficacy of the Argus II System in patients with bare or no light perception resulting from end-stage RP.

Concepts: Health care, Medicine, Avicenna, Physician, Retina, Ophthalmology, Retinitis pigmentosa, Blindness


Various retinal degenerative diseases including dry and neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD), retinitis pigmentosa, and diabetic retinopathy are associated with the degeneration of the retinal pigmented epithelial (RPE) layer of the retina. This consequently results in the death of rod and cone photoreceptors that they support, structurally and functionally leading to legal or complete blindness. Therefore, developing therapeutic strategies to preserve cellular homeostasis in the RPE would be a favorable asset in the clinic. The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) is a conserved, environmental ligand-dependent, per ARNT-sim (PAS) domain containing bHLH transcription factor that mediates adaptive response to stress via its downstream transcriptional targets. Using in silico, in vitro and in vivo assays, we identified 2,2'-aminophenyl indole (2AI) as a potent synthetic ligand of AhR that protects RPE cells in vitro from lipid peroxidation cytotoxicity mediated by 4-hydroxynonenal (4HNE) as well as the retina in vivo from light-damage. Additionally, metabolic characterization of this molecule by LC-MS suggests that 2AI alters the lipid metabolism of RPE cells, enhancing the intracellular levels of palmitoleic acid. Finally, we show that, as a downstream effector of 2AI-mediated AhR activation, palmitoleic acid protects RPE cells from 4HNE-mediated stress, and light mediated retinal degeneration in mice.

Concepts: Protein, Gene expression, In vivo, Retina, In vitro, Retinitis pigmentosa, Macular degeneration, Blindness


Cataracts reduce vision in 50% of individuals over 70 years of age and are a common form of blindness worldwide. Cataracts are caused when damage to the major lens crystallin proteins causes their misfolding and aggregation into insoluble amyloids. Using a thermal stability assay, we identified a class of molecules that bind α-crystallins (cryAA and cryAB) and reversed their aggregation in vitro. The most promising compound improved lens transparency in the R49C cryAA and R120G cryAB mouse models of hereditary cataract. It also partially restored protein solubility in the lenses of aged mice in vivo and in human lenses ex vivo. These findings suggest an approach to treating cataracts by stabilizing α-crystallins.

Concepts: Protein folding, In vivo, Chemical substance, In vitro, Blindness, Cataract, Ex vivo


Retinal prostheses, which restore partial vision to patients blinded by outer retinal degeneration, are currently in clinical trial. The Argus II retinal prosthesis system was recently awarded CE approval for commercial use in Europe. While retinal prosthesis users have achieved remarkable visual improvement to the point of reading letters and short sentences, the reading process is still fairly cumbersome. This study investigates the possibility of using an epiretinal prosthesis to stimulate visual braille as a sensory substitution for reading written letters and words. The Argus II retinal prosthesis system, used in this study, includes a 10 × 6 electrode array implanted epiretinally, a tiny video camera mounted on a pair of glasses, and a wearable computer that processes the video and determines the stimulation current of each electrode in real time. In the braille reading system, individual letters are created by a subset of dots from a 3 by 2 array of six dots. For the visual braille experiment, a grid of six electrodes was chosen out of the 10 × 6 Argus II array. Groups of these electrodes were then directly stimulated (bypassing the camera) to create visual percepts of individual braille letters. Experiments were performed in a single subject. Single letters were stimulated in an alternative forced choice (AFC) paradigm, and short 2-4-letter words were stimulated (one letter at a time) in an open-choice reading paradigm. The subject correctly identified 89% of single letters, 80% of 2-letter, 60% of 3-letter, and 70% of 4-letter words. This work suggests that text can successfully be stimulated and read as visual braille in retinal prosthesis patients.

Concepts: Psychology, Visual perception, Prosthetics, Book of Optics, Wearable computer, Blindness, Camera, Braille