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Retinal photoreceptor cells provide the critical first steps in vision, transducing incident photons into changes in membrane potential relayed via neural circuits to higher visual centers. Research on photoreceptors and their supporting epithelium, the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), is not only essential for understanding how we see, but it has also advanced knowledge in areas such as G protein signaling, neurophysiology, and protein structure and function.

In addition, fundamental photoreceptor and RPE research has been essential for new insights in the pathobiology of vision loss; blinding diseases like retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration result from photoreceptor degeneration that typically first appears as defects in cell biological and physiological mechanisms of the photoreceptors and/or the adjacent RPE.