About our work

Our section studies the structure and function of retinal synapses and circuits. Although we know the basic structure and major cell types of the retina, it remains much of a “black box” in terms of the connections and functions of these neurons. Our long-term research goal is to understand how the neuronal circuits are wired in this “black box” under normal conditions and how the circuits are altered during pathological processes. Both pieces of information will be crucial for the design of biological and/or prosthetic interventions aiming to restore vision in many types of blindness caused by retinal degenerative diseases. We'll exploit a combination of anatomical and physiological approaches to study synaptic connectivity using in vitro slice and flat-mount preparations of the ground squirrel retina. This is an excellent model system to study the cone vision, as ground squirrel is one of the rare mammals whose retina is cone-dominated and resembles the fovea of human retina.

A ground squirrel stands at attention and looks off into the distance

The ground squirrel (Spermophilis tridecemlineatus) is one of the rare mammals whose retina is cone-dominated and resembles the fovea of human retina. Researchers with the NEI’s Unit on Retinal Neurophysiology are using this animal model to study the cone visual system including retinal circuits for color vision.

Selected publications

Li W, DeVries SH (2004) Separate blue and green cone networks in the mammalian retina. Nature Neuroscience 7:751-756. (Cover)

Li W, DeVries SH (2006) Bipolar cell pathways for color and luminance vision in a dichromatic mammalian retina. Nature Neuroscience 9:669-675. (Cover)

DeVries SH, Li W, Saszik SM (2006) Parallel processing in two transmitter microenvironments at the cone photoreceptor synapse. Neuron 50(5):735-748. (Cover)

Grimes WN, Li W, Chávez AE, Diamond JS (2009) BK channels modulate pre- and postsynaptic signaling at reciprocal synapses in retina. Nature Neuroscience 12(5):585-592.

Li W, Chen S, DeVries, SH (2010) A fast rod photoreceptor signaling pathway in the mammalian retina. Nature Neuroscience 13(4):414-416.

Retinal Neurophysiology Section key staff

Key staff table
Name Title Email Phone
Fengyu Qiao, Ph.D. Biologist qiaof@nei.nih.gov 301-402-2595
Shan Chen, Ph.D. Senior Research Assistant chenshan@nei.nih.gov 301-451-1937
Wei Li, Ph.D. Senior Investigator liwei2@nei.nih.gov 301-496-6669

News from this lab

NIH researchers develop 'hibernation in a dish' to study how animals adapt to the cold

May 3, 2018

Researchers at the National Eye Institute have discovered cellular mechanisms that help the 13-lined ground squirrel survive hibernation.
Last updated: July 24, 2019