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Lab News



The retina, as the famous retinal research pioneer John Dowling of Harvard University wrote, is the most approachable part of the brain. When we peer into an eye, we are looking at the neurons of the retina, although under normal conditions they are too dark and non-reflective to be seen without special instruments. The retina is an extremely complex thin film of brain tissue having the critical task of capturing visual images with rod and cone photoreceptors, turning this image into electrical and chemical signals that are processed in complex neural circuits by the many interacting subtypes of retinal neurons, and then sending them via the ganglion cell axons in the optic nerve to the brain centers responsible for visual perception including conscious vision.

The neuronal circuits of the retina are the part of the eye that my laboratory studies. We are investigating how and why photoreceptors, horizontal cells, bipolar cells, amacrine cells and ganglion cells shape and tune their electrical signals using membrane ion channels, and how they transfer these signals to one another using chemical neurotransmitter synapses. We work on how the retinal neurons detect spatial and color contrast in visual space and respond to temporal changes in light intensity, how newly generated neurons develop the correct retinal properties when grown from stem cells in a dish, and how the different retinal metabolic environments affect the signaling and well-being of the neurons. Our current work is undertaken in collaboration with other laboratories at the Doheny Eye Institute and UCLA’s Stein Institute, along with the Departments of Ophthalmology and Neurobiology. Funding for these investigations comes from private charities, the National Institutes of Health, and other agencies, and these sources also support the training of new scientists, students, trainees and fellows.