Scientists have re-programmed Muller glia cells in the retina to become rod photoreceptors for the first time.
Describing the research in Nature, researchers report that mice with congenital blindness that underwent the procedure had their vision restored.
Thomas Greenwell, of the National Eye Institute, observed that as well as allowing mammals to see in low light, rod photoreceptors may aid cone photoreceptors, which are important for visual acuity and colour vision.
“If rods can be regenerated from inside the eye, this might be a strategy for treating diseases of the eye that affect photoreceptors,” he shared.
The process for changing the Muller glia cells was carried out in two stages.
Firstly, mice that were born blind received an injection of a gene that turns on the protein beta-catenin and prompts the Muller glia cells to divide.
A subsequent injection spurred the divided cells into becoming rod photoreceptors.
Measures of brain activity and light responses confirmed that the newly transformed cells were forming a functional part of the visual pathway in the mice.
Researchers next plan on investigating whether the procedure allows the mice to perform visual tasks, such as navigating a water maze.