Growth is one of the fundamental characteristics of biological systems. The study of eye growth regulation presents an interesting window that allows for the investigation of the role of the visual environment on internal processes. We now know that there is an intricate circuitry within the eye, independent of higher brain processes, that controls the growth of the eye but more needs to be elucidated about these local regulatory circuits. An improved understanding of this circuitry is critical to developing new therapies for abnormalities in eye growth regulation such as myopia, which is impacting more and more individuals around the world each day and in its more severe from, is linked to potentially blinding ocular complications.
The role of retinal glucagon, a neuropeptide, in the regulation of eye growth and refractive error has attracted the interest of researchers over the past 15 years yet there remain many unresolved questions. The research described in this dissertation aimed to elucidate the respective roles in eye growth regulation of specific subpopulations of retinal glucagonergic amacrine cells, which have been the subject of much speculation as the source of inhibitory growth signals, i.e. stop signals, yet not thoroughly investigated.
The approach taken to investigate this problem is to ablate glucagonergic amacrine cells in vivo using different neurotoxins, and to examine how this affects the sign-dependent circuitry of eye growth regulation. In addition, with the advent of advancements in high resolution imaging and electrophysiology, we were able to characterize the effects of these neurotoxins on the region-specific and time-sensitive changes in the structure and function of the living retina.
That the inhibitory response induced by imposed myopic defocus remains intact, in spite of total ablation of glucagon cells (Chapter 5) or elimination of the peripheral glucagon cells (Chapter 3) and other unintended adverse retina effects, compared to findings from previous studies involving QUIS (Chapter 2) of this thesis, is a novel finding. These results point to the same conclusion that glucagon cells themselves are not responsible for the decoding of the sign of optical defocus, but appear to have a role in fine-tuning of compensatory growth responses. The results of our experiments also suggest that the choroid may serve as an intermediate relay, and the altered anterior chamber development raise the further possibility that retina-derived growth modulatory factors also regulate the anterior segment, perhaps reaching this more remote site by diffusion forward through the vitreous chamber or via the uvea.