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Steven Baer : Multiscale Modeling of Neural Subcircuits and Feedback Mechanisms in the Outer Plexiform Layer of the Retina

Visual processing begins in the outer plexiform layer of the retina, where
bipolar, horizontal, and photoreceptor cells interact. In vertebrates, the
onset of dim backgrounds can enhance small spot flicker responses of
retinal horizontal cells. This flicker response is called background-
induced flicker enhancement. The underlying mechanism for the feedback
is unclear but competing hypotheses have been proposed. One is the GABA
hypothesis, which states that the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA,
released from horizontal cells, mediates the feedback by blocking calcium
channels. Another is the ephaptic hypothesis, which contends that calcium
entry is regulated by changes in the electrical potential within the
intersynaptic space between cones and horizontal cells. In this study, a
continuum spine model of cone-horizontal cell synaptic circuitry is
formulated. The model captures two spatial scales - the scale of an
individual synapse and the scale of the receptive field involving hundreds
to thousands of synapses. We show that the ephaptic mechanism produces
reasonable qualitative agreement with the temporal dynamics exhibited by
flicker enhancement experiments. We find that although GABA produces
enhancement, this mechanism alone is insufficient to reproduce the
experimental results. We view this multiscale continuum approach as a
first step in formulating a multi-layer mathematical model of retinal
circuitry, which would include the other ‘brain nuclei’ within the retina:
the inner plexiform layer where bipolar, amacrine, interplexiform, and
ganglion cells interact.

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