Photoreceptors caught on camera

Scientists have captured the process of disc shedding for the first time

18 Oct 2016 by Olivia Wannan

It may not be everyone’s photo of a lifetime – but the world-first images capturing a photoreceptor shedding its disc has left University of Indiana and University of California, Davis, researchers very excited.

Until the Biomedical Optics Express journal paper was published, the daily shedding of photoreceptor discs, which contain the toxic materials left over from the cell’s conversion of light into electrical signals, had proved elusive.

Lead project researcher, Professor Donald Miller, explained that: “We and other imaging groups have been trying to detect this important physiological event for many years and have always come up short.”

The tiny size of the discs, which are only a few microns across, combined with the fact that these are “quickly gobbled up by neighbouring cells” made the task a particular challenge, Professor Miller said, adding: “In some ways it is like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

To capture this key ocular process, the researchers combined adaptive optics with optical coherence tomography and processed these images using algorithms that they created.

Professor Miller hoped that the ability to capture this waste-removal process will shed more light on how the eye works, and provide insight into diseases affecting photoreceptor cells.

“These first experiments establish a clear path for further investigation of photoreceptor shedding, which are now underway in our laboratory. Much awaits, and we have a great team to do it,” he concluded.

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