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Retinal Vasculature ImageRetinal vasculature is composed of neurons (intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells in red), astrocytes (white) and endothelial cells (green). The Viczian lab is studying the interaction between these cells.

Genetic mutations linked to blinding disease

The mission of our lab is to find the underlying cause for blinding disease. In many cases, the cause is due to genetic mutations in proteins called transcription factors. Transcription factors are proteins that regulate the expression of many genes at once. The transcription factors that we study regulate eye-specific genes that form genetic networks – that is, they regulate the expression of each other. By studying transcription factors required during eye development, we can hypothesize how mutations in these proteins could lead to blinding disease. This will eventually lead to future treatments for these types of diseases.

Transcription factors in neural retina formation

A central question in developmental biology is, ‘What genes are required for neural tissue formation?’ My lab is interested in studying the delicate, yet diligent neural tissue in the eye – the retina. Our group uses both frog (Xenopus laevis) and mouse (Mus musculus) to answer this question. By studying these very different animals, we hope to uncover evolutionarily conserved, fundamental mechanisms that drive retinal formation in all organisms. 

Communication between neural retinal versus vascular cells

Retinal blood vessels supply the retina on both sides of this delicate tissue. During development, as neural retinal cells differentiate, they require more oxygen and nutrients and produce proteins that signal to the vasculature to grow into the retina. These signals are currently poorly understood. Are there genetic networks or signaling pathways specific to retinal vascular cells? Our lab is currently interested in understanding this cross-talk between neurons and retinal vasculature, as they are disrupted in many blinding diseases.

If you would like to join us in discovering answers to these questions, we encourage you to email Dr. Viczian.