Laboratory of Christophe P. Ribelayga, PhD

Neural Circuits for Vision and Daily Plasticity

Simply put, our research aims to understand how we see during the day and night. Our visual system is remarkable in that it can operate under the bright midday sun, at night under starlight, and at all times in between when ambient light intensity varies by more than 10 billion-fold. The mechanisms responsible for this remarkable adaptation are known to primarily originate in the eye and more specifically in its sensory part, the retina.

Adaptation to the daily changes in ambient light intensity in the retina depends on a specific functional architecture, including 2 types of photoreceptors, rods and cones, and a wide variety of neuronal mechanisms encompassing both adaptive mechanisms driven by ambient light and endogenous mechanisms, such as circadian clocks. The main property of circadian clocks is that they are self-sustained in nature, and therefore they function even in the absence of time cues, such as in constant conditions (i.e. constant darkness) with a period of approximately 24 h, hence the term circadian (from the Latin circa dies, which translates into “about one day”). Circadian clocks in the retina keep track of the highly predictable daily changes in the ambient light intensity, thus preparing retinal circuits for the abrupt changes in lighting conditions at transition times (i.e. dawn and dusk) and optimizing retinal processing for high-acuity low-sensitivity daytime vision or low-acuity high-sensitivity nighttime vision. Genetic dysfunction of the retinal clocks or of circadian signaling in the retina produces marked deficits in retinal responses to light and compromises retinal cell viability. Thus, functional circadian clocks are essential for normal maintenance and function of the retina.

Our long-term goal is to understand how circadian clocks in the retina modulate retinal function and visual perception on a daily basis, and why clock malfunction impinges on information processing and cell viability.