Transient and Sustained Ganglion Cell Light Responses Are Differentially Modulated by Intrinsically Produced Reactive Oxygen Species Acting upon Specific Voltage-Gated Na+ Channel Isoforms

J Neurosci. 2023 Mar 29;43(13):2291-2304. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1723-22.2023. Epub 2023 Feb 24.


Increasing spike rates drive greater neuronal energy demand. In turn, mitochondrial ATP production leads to the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can modulate ion channel gating. Does ROS production autoregulate the excitability of a neuron? We investigated the links between retinal ganglion cell (RGC) excitability and spike activity-driven ROS production in male and female mice. Changes to the light-evoked and current-evoked spike patterns of functionally identified αRGC subtypes, along with their NaV channel-gating properties, were recorded during experimentally induced decreases and increases of intracellular ROS. During periods of highest spike rates (e.g., following light onset in ON sustained RGCs and light offset in OFF sustained RGCs), these αRGC subtypes responded to reductions of ROS (induced by catalase or glutathione monoethyl ester) with higher spike rates. Increases in ROS (induced by mercaptosuccinate, antimycin-A, or H2O2) lowered spike rates. In ON and OFF transient RGCs, there were no changes in spike rate during ROS decreases but increased ROS increased spiking. This suggests that endogenous ROS are intrinsic neuromodulators in RGCs having high metabolic demands but not in RGCs with lower energy needs. We identified ROS-induced shifts in the voltage-dependent gating of specific isoforms of NaV channels that account for the modulation of ON and OFF sustained RGC spike frequency by ROS-mediated feedback. ROS-induced changes to NaV channel gating, affecting activation and inactivation kinetics, are consistent with the differing spike pattern alterations observed in RGC subtypes. Cell-autonomous generation of ROS during spiking contributes to tuning the spike patterns of RGCs.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Energy production within retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) is accompanied by metabolic by-products harmful to cellular function. How these by-products modulate the excitability of RGCs bears heavily on visual function and the etiology of optic neuropathies. A novel hypothesis of how RGC metabolism can produce automodulation of electrical signaling was tested by identifying the characteristics and biophysical origins of changes to the excitability of RGCs caused by oxidizing by-products in the retina. This impacts our understanding of the pathophysiology of RGC dysfunction, supporting an emerging model in which increases in oxidizing chemical species during energy production, but not necessarily bioenergetic failure, lead to preferential degeneration of specific subtypes of RGCs, yielding loss of different aspects of visual capacity.

Keywords: RGC; action potential; ganglion cell; reactive oxygen species; retina; sodium channel.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Hydrogen Peroxide*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Retina
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells* / physiology
  • Signal Transduction


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Hydrogen Peroxide