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Snapshots of Life: Behold the Beauty of the Eye

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Colorized cross section of a mouse eye

Credit: Bryan William Jones and Robert E. Marc, University of Utah

The eye is a complex marvel of nature. In fact, there are some 70 to 80 kinds of cells in the mammalian retina. This image beautifully illuminates the eye’s complexity, on a cellular level—showing how these cells are arranged and wired together to facilitate sight.

“Reading” the image from left to right, we first find the muscle cells, in peach, that move the eye in its socket. The green layer, next, is the sclera—the white part of the eye. The spongy-looking layers that follow provide blood to the retina. The thin layer of yellow is the retinal pigment epithelium. The photoreceptors, in shades of pink, detect photons and transmit the information to the next layer down: the bipolar and horizontal cells (purple). From the bipolar cells, information flows to the amacrine and ganglion cells (blue, green, and turquoise) and then out of the retina via the optic nerve (the white plume that seems to billow out across the upper-right side of the eye), which transmits data to the brain for processing.


Snapshots of Life: Seeing, from Eye to Brain

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Credit: Xueting Luo and Kevin Park, University of Miami

Fasten your seat belts! We’re going to fly through the brain of a mouse. Our tour guide is Kevin Park, an NIH-funded neuroscientist at the University of Miami, who has developed a unique method to visualize neurons in an intact brain. He’s going to give us a rare close-up of the retinal ganglion cells that carry information from the eye to the brain, where the light signals are decoded and translated.

To make this movie, Park has injected a fluorescent dye into the mouse eye; it is taken up by the retinal cells and traces out the nerve pathways from the optic nerve into the brain.


Glowing Proof of Gene Therapy Delivered to the Eye

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Cross section of a retina stained red, green, and blue

Caption: A cross section from the retina of a non-human primate shows evidence of the production of a glowing green protein, made from genes the virus delivered —proof that the genetic cargo entered all layers of the outer retina. Cell nuclei are labeled in blue and the laminin protein is labeled in red.
Credit: Leah Byrne, University of California, Berkeley

Scientists based at Berkeley have engineered a virus that can carry healthy genes through the jelly-like substance in the eye to reach the cells that make up the retina—the back of the eye that detects light.


Lighting up the Eyes

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microscopic image of a network of blood vessels

Image created using a nuclear label of a flat-mount preparation of the hyaloid vessels from the eye.
Source: Richard Lang, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, OH

This image may conjure up thoughts of bioluminescent jellyfish, but it actually shows a network of developing blood vessels in the eye of a three day old mouse. A study in Nature last week determined that light regulates the pattern of mouse blood vessels as they develop. Observing the intermediate states of eye development is important because abnormal blood vessel development is a major cause of blindness in premature infants.

Funded by National Eye Institute, NIH.


Guarding Against Glaucoma: What Can We Do?

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Chart showing the theoretical increase in the number of cases of Glaucoma, 2010-2050

Source: National Eye Institute, NIH

This graph provides a frightening look at a problem that could threaten the vision of more than 6 million Americans by 2050: glaucoma. Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve — a bundle of 1 million-plus nerve fibers connecting the light-sensitive retina to the brain — and that can lead to vision loss and blindness.

NIH research is trying to change this picture by developing better strategies for treatment and prevention. But you can also help. How? By getting your eyes checked regularly.

With early detection and treatment, serious vision loss can often be prevented. Anyone can develop glaucoma, but some folks are at higher risk:

  • African Americans over age 40
  • Everyone over age 60, especially Mexican Americans
  • People with a family history of glaucoma

Glaucoma often has no symptoms until a lot of damage has already been done.  So the best way to prevent a bad outcome from glaucoma is by undergoing a simple eye exam that can be done by an ophthalmologist or an optometrist — at least once every 2 years for people in high-risk groups.

Source: National Eye Institute, NIH


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