New UCLA research in mice suggests that “dormant” cone photoreceptors in the degenerating retina are not dormant at all, but continue to function, producing responses to light and driving retinal activity for vision.
The cells in the retina that produce the visual experience are rods and cones. Rods are active in dim light and cones in daylight. Mutations in rods that cause them to die trigger most inherited retinal degeneration. Cones can remain alive after nearly all the rods die, but they retract key parts of the cells and appear “dormant.”
But while past literature suggested that dormant cells were not functional, and earlier attempts to record from them revealed no light-driven activity, the new study indicates for the first time that the cells are still viable. Furthermore, downstream signals recorded from the retina show that visual processing is not as compromised as may be expected. The authors say their findings demonstrate that therapeutic interventions to protect these cells, or enhance their sensitivity, have the capability to preserve nearly normal daytime vision.