Cells are the building blocks of complex biological systems. Cells with shared morphological and functional features are characterized as types. In order to understand the organization and function of a complex system, it is key to identify the cell types that compose it and how they become specified.
How does the retina work?
The retina is a thin neural sheet that lines the back of the eye. It contains over 100 cell types, each with distinct cell-type features including somatic position, dendritic pattern, axon innervation, and connection choice. As a collective, they endow the retina with the ability to compute photon inputs into visual features such as illumination, motion, direction, color, et cetera. These visual features are then assembled into an image in the brain.
What gives humans clear vision?
Humans and most primates rely on a high-acuity and chromatic central vision; when lost, skills such as reading, driving, and facial recognition fail. High-acuity vision stems from the fovea — a small (~1.5 mm diameter) specialized region at the center of the retina. Among mammals, only primates have a fovea; its formation and specialization remain unknown.
What causes blindness?
Most irreversible blindness results from retinal dysfunction. For example, the three leading causes of irreversible blindness—age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy— are all neurodegenerative retinal diseases. These three groups of diseases affect over 100 million people world-wide, greatly outnumbering those affected by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Our lab aims to exploit and develop state-of-the-art omic (genomic, transcriptomic, and proteomic) tools to decode genetic programs that specify cell-type features; reveal the molecular underpinning of the formation and specialization of human foveal formation; and uncover molecular signatures that cause the degeneration of retinal cells in common ocular diseases.
1. Decipher the genetic codes that specify cell-type features.
2. Uncover molecular underpinnings of the specialization of macular/foveal region in humans.
3. Genome-wide phenotypic studies of common ocular diseases.