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Reyna Martinez-Deluna, PhD

Retinal Ganglion Cells

Retinal ganglion cells are the final output of the retina and thereby transmit visual information to the brain. As such, the loss of RGCs due to injury or disease impairs vision, first locally, and then if completely unchecked would result in blindness. Thus, protection of RGCs following injury is critical and a possible long-term therapeutic strategy would be the successful regeneration of RGCs. To achieve regeneration, it is first necessary to have a thorough understanding of the developmental mechanisms regulating RGC formation and maturation. My laboratory is focused in studying how laminins, essential components of the ECM, regulate the retinal organization of RGC subtypes and the guidance of their axons to the brain. 

The role of laminins in the retinal organization of ganglion cells 

Retinal ganglion cells are distributed across the surface of the retina in a patterned array known as a retinal mosaic. This spatial distribution over the surface of the retina is necessary for efficient sampling of information throughout the entire retina. The characteristics of the mosaic are defined by extent of dendrite coverage from each subtype of RGC. The molecular mechanisms that position RGCs within the mosaic array is not completely understood. A research goal of the laboratory is to understand how laminins help to establish the RGC mosaic during development. 

The role of laminins in guiding axons to the brain 

Immediately after birth RGCs extend axons that exit the eye and enter the brain. Depending on the position they are born in the retina, RGCs axons travel to either the same or opposite side of the brain to innervate specific brain nuclei. Previous research has shown that RGC axons are guided to their final destinations by axon guidance molecules. As axons travel to the brain they are in direct contact with the pial basement membrane, an extracellular matrix structure that is rich in laminins. A second goal of our research is to understand the role of laminins in the guidance of RGC axons to their brain targets.