Genetic studies endow mice with new color vision

tep in the evolution of trichromactic color vision in primates: the introduction of the L receptor gene. Their goal was to determine whether that gene alone could alter an animals sensory perception. Its been unclear, Jacobs explained, whether the simple addition of a photopigment is sufficient to yield a new dimension of color vision, or whether you might need, in addition, some changes in the nervous system.

In 2003, Nathans and Jacobs, together with Markus Meister at Harvard University, reported their initial studies on genetically engineered mice carrying the L receptor gene in place of the M receptor gene. Because these genes are carried on the X-chromosome, they are subject to a process known as X-chromosome inactivation. In mammals, every cell in females has two X-chromosomes, while every cell in males has a single X-chromosome. X-inactivation occurs only in females and results in the silencing of most of the genes on one of the X-chromosomes in each cell. Because different cells choose to silence either one or the other of the X-chromosomes, female mice engineered to have one copy each of the M and L receptor genes express the M receptor in some cone cells and the L receptor in other cone cells. These two different types of cones are intermingled with one another across the surface of the retina. This X-inactivation-based mechanism for producing M and L receptors in different cone cells is the same as the one that Jacobs had identified earlier in New World primates. For the current study, the team selected mice that possessed roughly equal ratios of M and L cone cells, and compared their vision to that of normal mice.

Jacobs group at UCSB developed behavioral tests to determine whether the female mice could discriminate among colored lights by comparing the relative activation of the M and L cone cells. The researchers conducted tens of thousands of tests in which two different wavelengths or intensities of light were displayed on three test pane

Contact: Jennifer Michalowski
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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