A new study from Scripps Research, which appears this month in Cell Reports, examines these proteins in unprecedented detail -- providing surprising new insights into how visual signals are distributed to different regions of the brain. The results are an important first step in understanding and eventually treating vision loss from glaucoma, multiple sclerosis or even trauma. More than 3.3 million Americans aged 40 years and older are either legally blind or have visual impairments that can't be corrected with today's interventions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Proteins are usually the targets of drugs -- so if you want to design a drug that will help communication between the eye and the brain, it helps to know what proteins those drugs would target," says Hollis Cline, PhD, co-chair of Scripps Research's Department of Neuroscience, who led the research project. "This type of study was never possible before because it wasn't feasible to see how these proteins move around the brain. The technology didn't exist."
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To create the technology, Cline's lab worked closely with the lab of John Yates III, PhD, a Scripps Research chemist who has pioneered new ways to use an analytical technique known as mass spectrometry to study proteins and their functions. Using this new method -- developed over the course of several years -- Cline's team was able to "label" about 1,000 different types of proteins that originate in the eye's retinal ganglion cells, and then watch how and where they travel in a living brain of a rat. Just as in human brains, the proteins are transported via neuronal axons, which are long, threadlike nerve fibers that extend from the eye into the brain via the optic nerve.
"The brain is an ensemble of very complicated architecture, and it's hard to separate every component and...
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