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

Concept: Photoreceptor cell


The century-old idea that stripes make zebras cryptic to large carnivores has never been examined systematically. We evaluated this hypothesis by passing digital images of zebras through species-specific spatial and colour filters to simulate their appearance for the visual systems of zebras' primary predators and zebras themselves. We also measured stripe widths and luminance contrast to estimate the maximum distances from which lions, spotted hyaenas, and zebras can resolve stripes. We found that beyond ca. 50 m (daylight) and 30 m (twilight) zebra stripes are difficult for the estimated visual systems of large carnivores to resolve, but not humans. On moonless nights, stripes are difficult for all species to resolve beyond ca. 9 m. In open treeless habitats where zebras spend most time, zebras are as clearly identified by the lion visual system as are similar-sized ungulates, suggesting that stripes cannot confer crypsis by disrupting the zebra’s outline. Stripes confer a minor advantage over solid pelage in masking body shape in woodlands, but the effect is stronger for humans than for predators. Zebras appear to be less able than humans to resolve stripes although they are better than their chief predators. In conclusion, compared to the uniform pelage of other sympatric herbivores it appears highly unlikely that stripes are a form of anti-predator camouflage.

Concepts: Crypsis, Photoreceptor cell, Visual system, Mammal, Camouflage, Zebra, Predation, Lion


Biofluorescence has recently been found to be widespread in marine fishes, including sharks. Catsharks, such as the Swell Shark (Cephaloscyllium ventriosum) from the eastern Pacific and the Chain Catshark (Scyliorhinus retifer) from the western Atlantic, are known to exhibit bright green fluorescence. We examined the spectral sensitivity and visual characteristics of these reclusive sharks, while also considering the fluorescent properties of their skin. Spectral absorbance of the photoreceptor cells in these sharks revealed the presence of a single visual pigment in each species. Cephaloscyllium ventriosum exhibited a maximum absorbance of 484 ± 3 nm and an absorbance range at half maximum (λ1/2max) of 440-540 nm, whereas for S. retifer maximum absorbance was 488 ± 3 nm with the same absorbance range. Using the photoreceptor properties derived here, a “shark eye” camera was designed and developed that yielded contrast information on areas where fluorescence is anatomically distributed on the shark, as seen from other sharks' eyes of these two species. Phylogenetic investigations indicate that biofluorescence has evolved at least three times in cartilaginous fishes. The repeated evolution of biofluorescence in elasmobranchs, coupled with a visual adaptation to detect it; and evidence that biofluorescence creates greater luminosity contrast with the surrounding background, highlights the potential importance of biofluorescence in elasmobranch behavior and biology.

Concepts: Great white shark, Swellshark, Scyliorhinidae, Photoreceptor cell, Cephaloscyllium, Catshark, Chondrichthyes, Shark


Astronomers and physicists noticed centuries ago that visual spatial resolution is higher for dark than light stimuli, but the neuronal mechanisms for this perceptual asymmetry remain unknown. Here we demonstrate that the asymmetry is caused by a neuronal nonlinearity in the early visual pathway. We show that neurons driven by darks (OFF neurons) increase their responses roughly linearly with luminance decrements, independent of the background luminance. However, neurons driven by lights (ON neurons) saturate their responses with small increases in luminance and need bright backgrounds to approach the linearity of OFF neurons. We show that, as a consequence of this difference in linearity, receptive fields are larger in ON than OFF thalamic neurons, and cortical neurons are more strongly driven by darks than lights at low spatial frequencies. This ON/OFF asymmetry in linearity could be demonstrated in the visual cortex of cats, monkeys, and humans and in the cat visual thalamus. Furthermore, in the cat visual thalamus, we show that the neuronal nonlinearity is present at the ON receptive field center of ON-center neurons and ON receptive field surround of OFF-center neurons, suggesting an origin at the level of the photoreceptor. These results demonstrate a fundamental difference in visual processing between ON and OFF channels and reveal a competitive advantage for OFF neurons over ON neurons at low spatial frequencies, which could be important during cortical development when retinal images are blurred by immature optics in infant eyes.

Concepts: Optics, Visual system, Receptive field, Thalamus, Photoreceptor cell, Brain, Retina, Cerebral cortex


We tested whether eye color influences perception of trustworthiness. Facial photographs of 40 female and 40 male students were rated for perceived trustworthiness. Eye color had a significant effect, the brown-eyed faces being perceived as more trustworthy than the blue-eyed ones. Geometric morphometrics, however, revealed significant correlations between eye color and face shape. Thus, face shape likewise had a significant effect on perceived trustworthiness but only for male faces, the effect for female faces not being significant. To determine whether perception of trustworthiness was being influenced primarily by eye color or by face shape, we recolored the eyes on the same male facial photos and repeated the test procedure. Eye color now had no effect on perceived trustworthiness. We concluded that although the brown-eyed faces were perceived as more trustworthy than the blue-eyed ones, it was not brown eye color per se that caused the stronger perception of trustworthiness but rather the facial features associated with brown eyes.

Concepts: Photoreceptor cell, Qualia, Rod cell, Color, Human eye, Cone cell, Eye, Eye color


Visual abilities of the honey bee have been studied for more than 100 years, recently revealing unexpectedly sophisticated cognitive skills rivalling those of vertebrates. However, the physiological limits of the honey bee eye have been largely unaddressed and only studied in an unnatural, dark state. Using a bright display and intracellular recordings, we here systematically investigated the angular sensitivity across the light adapted eye of honey bee foragers. Angular sensitivity is a measure of photoreceptor receptive field size and thus small values indicate higher visual acuity. Our recordings reveal a fronto-ventral acute zone in which angular sensitivity falls below 1.9°, some 30% smaller than previously reported. By measuring receptor noise and responses to moving dark objects, we also obtained direct measures of the smallest features detectable by the retina. In the frontal eye, single photoreceptors respond to objects as small as 0.6° × 0.6°, with >99% reliability. This indicates that honey bee foragers possess significantly better resolution than previously reported or estimated behaviourally, and commonly assumed in modelling of bee acuity.

Concepts: Rod cell, Insect, Visual acuity, Receptive field, Honey bee, Eye, Retina, Photoreceptor cell


One strategy to restore vision in retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration is cell replacement. Typically, patients lose vision when the outer retinal photoreceptor layer is lost, and so the therapeutic goal would be to restore vision at this stage of disease. It is not currently known if a degenerate retina lacking the outer nuclear layer of photoreceptor cells would allow the survival, maturation, and reconnection of replacement photoreceptors, as prior studies used hosts with a preexisting outer nuclear layer at the time of treatment. Here, using a murine model of severe human retinitis pigmentosa at a stage when no host rod cells remain, we show that transplanted rod precursors can reform an anatomically distinct and appropriately polarized outer nuclear layer. A trilaminar organization was returned to rd1 hosts that had only two retinal layers before treatment. The newly introduced precursors were able to resume their developmental program in the degenerate host niche to become mature rods with light-sensitive outer segments, reconnecting with host neurons downstream. Visual function, assayed in the same animals before and after transplantation, was restored in animals with zero rod function at baseline. These observations suggest that a cell therapy approach may reconstitute a light-sensitive cell layer de novo and hence repair a structurally damaged visual circuit. Rather than placing discrete photoreceptors among preexisting host outer retinal cells, total photoreceptor layer reconstruction may provide a clinically relevant model to investigate cell-based strategies for retinal repair.

Concepts: Rod cell, Cone cell, Rhodopsin, Macular degeneration, Visual system, Eye, Photoreceptor cell, Retina


Evidence suggests that light and circadian rhythms profoundly influence the physiologic capacity with which an organism responds to stress. However, the ramifications of light spectrum on the course of critical illness remain to be determined. Here, we show that acute exposure to bright blue spectrum light reduces organ injury by comparison with bright red spectrum or ambient white fluorescent light in two murine models of sterile insult: warm liver ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) and unilateral renal I/R. Exposure to bright blue light before I/R reduced hepatocellular injury and necrosis and reduced acute kidney injury and necrosis. In both models, blue light reduced neutrophil influx, as evidenced by reduced myeloperoxidase (MPO) within each organ, and reduced the release of high-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1), a neutrophil chemotactant and key mediator in the pathogenesis of I/R injury. The protective mechanism appeared to involve an optic pathway and was mediated, in part, by a sympathetic (β3 adrenergic) pathway that functioned independent of significant alterations in melatonin or corticosterone concentrations to regulate neutrophil recruitment. These data suggest that modifying the spectrum of light may offer therapeutic utility in sterile forms of cellular injury.

Concepts: Biology, Circadian rhythm, Blue, Photoreceptor cell, Spectrum, Light, Red, Visible spectrum


Myopia, or nearsightedness, is the most common eye disorder, resulting primarily from excess elongation of the eye. The etiology of myopia, although known to be complex, is poorly understood. Here we report the largest ever genome-wide association study (45,771 participants) on myopia in Europeans. We performed a survival analysis on age of myopia onset and identified 22 significant associations ([Formula: see text]), two of which are replications of earlier associations with refractive error. Ten of the 20 novel associations identified replicate in a separate cohort of 8,323 participants who reported if they had developed myopia before age 10. These 22 associations in total explain 2.9% of the variance in myopia age of onset and point toward a number of different mechanisms behind the development of myopia. One association is in the gene , which has previously been linked to abnormally small eyes; one is in a gene that forms part of the extracellular matrix (); two are in or near genes involved in the regeneration of 11-cis-retinal ( and ); two are near genes known to be involved in the growth and guidance of retinal ganglion cells (, ); and five are in or near genes involved in neuronal signaling or development. These novel findings point toward multiple genetic factors involved in the development of myopia and suggest that complex interactions between extracellular matrix remodeling, neuronal development, and visual signals from the retina may underlie the development of myopia in humans.

Concepts: Myopia, Retinal ganglion cell, Visual system, Nervous system, Photoreceptor cell, Genetics, Eye, Retina


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


Type 1 cannabinoid receptors (CB1Rs) are widely expressed in the vertebrate retina but the role of endocannabinoids in vision is not fully understood. Here we identified a novel mechanism underlying a CB1R-mediated increase in retinal ganglion cell (RGC) intrinsic excitability acting through AMPK-dependent inhibition of NKCC1 activity. Clomeleon imaging and patch clamp recordings revealed that inhibition of NKCC1 downstream of CB1R activation reduces intracellular Cl(-) levels in RGCs, hyperpolarizing the resting membrane potential. We confirmed that such hyperpolarization enhances RGC action potential firing in response to subsequent depolarization, consistent with the increased intrinsic excitability of RGCs observed with CB1R activation. Using a dot avoidance assay in freely swimming Xenopus tadpoles we demonstrate that CB1R activation markedly improves visual contrast sensitivity under low light conditions. These results highlight a role for endocannabinoids in vision, and present a novel mechanism for cannabinoid modulation of neuronal activity through Cl(-) regulation.

Concepts: Membrane potential, Photoreceptor cell, Resting potential, Ganglion cell, Nervous system, Retinal ganglion cell, Action potential, Retina