E. Matilda Ziegler Research Award

The Pearring lab was awarded a 3 year Research Award from the E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation For The Blind to support a project titled, “Photoreceptor Outer Segment Regeneration: Understanding the Molecular Programs and Dynamic Cellular Processes for De Novo Biogenesis”. This proposal employs molecular genetic techniques and innovative advanced microscopy to uncover the molecular and cellular programs involved in daily outer segment renewal and then applies this knowledge to transform a primary cilium into a large, membrane-dense, light-sensing organelle. 

Our vision begins in the ciliary outer segment compartment of retinal photoreceptor cells where light is captured and transformed into a neuronal signal. Unlike other primary cilia, the outer segment is 50-fold larger and filled with hundreds of tightly-stacked disc-shaped membranes, increasing light sensitivity. As light detectors, photoreceptors are highly susceptible to phototoxic damage, which is alleviated by continuously replacing their outer segment on a daily basis. Like a conveyer belt, outer segment renewal occurs by adding new disc material to the base, while old discs at the tip are shed and taken up by neighboring retinal pigment epithelium cells. Understanding the underlying mechanisms governing outer segment renewal will provide valuable insight into how to build and regenerate this light-sensing organelle following injury or disease. 

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