Inherited retinal degenerations encompass a wide range of diseases that result in the death of rod and cone photoreceptors, eventually leading to irreversible blindness. Low vision survives at early stages of degeneration, at which point it could rely on residual populations of rod/cone photoreceptors as well as the inner retinal photoreceptor, melanopsin. To date, the impact of partial retinal degeneration on visual responses in the primary visual thalamus (dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus, dLGN) remains unknown, as does their relative reliance on surviving rod and cone photoreceptors vs. melanopsin. To answer these questions, we recorded visually evoked responses in the dLGN of anesthetized rd1 mice using in vivo electrophysiology at an age (3-5 wk) at which cones are partially degenerate and rods are absent. We found that excitatory (ON) responses to light had lower amplitude and longer latency in rd1 mice compared with age-matched visually intact controls; however, contrast sensitivity and spatial receptive field size were largely unaffected at this early stage of degeneration. Responses were retained when those wavelengths to which melanopsin is most sensitive were depleted, indicating that they were driven primarily by surviving cones. Inhibitory responses appeared absent in the rd1 thalamus, as did light-evoked gamma oscillations in firing. This description of fundamental features of the dLGN visual response at this intermediate stage of retinal degeneration provides a context for emerging attempts to restore vision by introducing ectopic photoreception to the degenerate retina.NEW & NOTEWORTHY This study provides new therapeutically relevant insights to visual responses in the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus during progressive retinal degeneration. Using in vivo electrophysiology, we demonstrate that visual responses have lower amplitude and longer latency during degeneration, but contrast sensitivity and spatial receptive fields remain unaffected. Such visual responses are driven predominantly by surviving cones rather than melanopsin photoreceptors. The functional integrity of this visual pathway is encouraging for emerging attempts at visual restoration.
Keywords: cone photoreceptor; dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus; melanopsin; receptor substitution; retinal degeneration; spatial receptive field.
Conflict of interest statement
No conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise, are declared by the authors.
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