NEI Audacious Goals lecture features Stanford’s Huberman

Andrew Huberman

January 24, 2017

Figuring out how to get neurons to regenerate and re-integrate in the brain is one of the biggest unsolved challenges in neuroscience, said Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology, Stanford School of Medicine. NEI featured Huberman at its latest Audacious Goals Initiative seminar in neuroregeneration. Huberman’s recent success in regrowing retinal ganglion cells—neurons that carry visual signals from the eye to the brain—suggests neural activity is key.  

During development, retinal ganglion cells extend their long telephone wire-like axons from the retina in the back of the eye to visual centers all over the brain. Diseases like glaucoma initially damage axons at the optic nerve, where the axons leave the eye, eventually causing cell death and potentially vision loss.

To see if he could recapitulate the developmental process in adult mice, Huberman injured the optic nerve from one eye and then tested a variety of known axonal guidance factors, including mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). He saw modest regrowth of axons with mTOR, but more robust growth when he combined it with exposure to high-contrast visual stimulation, achieved by placing the mice in a chamber displaying changing patterns of black lines for several hours each day. Growth was further enhanced by forcing the animal to use the injured eye.

“Regenerating retinal ganglion cell axons not only regrew from the site of injury, they preferentially re-innervated correct visual targets in the brain,” said Huberman. Three weeks after optic nerve crush, mice that received combination therapy experienced axonal growth at a rate 500 times greater than untreated animals.

Huberman cautioned that the treatment restored only a small fraction of axons. “It’s very few axons—probably less than a hundred—that reach the brain.” Nonetheless, mice regained some visual function, suggesting the approach holds promise for treating disease and injury in people. 

The NEI Audacious Goals Initiative is a sustained effort to develop regenerative therapies for retinal diseases. 

NEI Audacious Goals lecture features Stanford’s Huberman

Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology, Stanford School of Medicine presents "Visual restoration: bridges and gaps to curing blindness in humans" January 25, 2017, at the National Institutes of Health. The lecture was part of the National Eye Institute Audacious Goals Initiative Seminar Series in Neuroregeneration. Huberman’s recent success in regrowing retinal ganglion cells—neurons that carry visual signals from the eye to the brain—suggests neural activity is key to restoring vision. During his talk, he discussed strategies for neuroregeneration of the visual system, revealed what scientists have learned by studying organisms with robust regenerative capacity, and described how medicine is applying this knowledge to someday reverse vision loss in humans.

Last updated: July 22, 2019