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'Blind' cells see the light; maybe someday humans will, too

"on" cells that turn on when the eye is hit with light, while others "off" cells turn off. This is part of the eye's analysis circuitry, which helps pick out significant features of the visual field, such as edges and motion, even before the signals reach the brain. Inserting the same switch in all retinal ganglion cells could result in a visual muddle.

"Your brain would be confused, like feeling hot and cold at the same time," he said. "Electrodes would have this problem, too, indiscriminately stimulating on and off cells."

One solution, Kramer said, is to re-engineer a sodium channel to function just the opposite of the mutated potassium channel, then target the engineered sodium channel to "on" cells and the engineered potassium channel to "off" cells, using cell specific promoters.

"If you're using electrical stimulation, there is no way to selectively deliver information to two different channels," he said. "But with genetics, we can do something that electrical stimulation can never do."

"We haven't cured blindness yet," Kramer added, "but that's our main motivation in this work."


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Contact: Robert Sanders
rsanders@berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
21-Nov-2004


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