Dunn Lab

Our Research

Sensory systems have evolved to have diverse primary receptors, specialized to detect the stimuli most relevant in a species’ environment, and multiple cell types specialized to maintain multiple processing pathways segregated by primary receptor type. In the mammalian retina, one of the most extensively-studied sensory circuits, this is exemplified by the rod and cone pathways, which are dedicated to stimulus detection and signal processing at low and high light levels, respectively. Although diversification in retinal circuitry has been appreciated for centuries, the precise mechanisms behind how rod and cone photoreceptors form type-specific connections with their postsynaptic partners are still unknown, as are the mechanisms behind independent regulation of rod and cone signals in the unified output of the retina–the ganglion cell. Our lab uses molecular, anatomical, electrophysiological, and modeling techniques, including protein knockdown and transgenic ablation of cells to elucidate these mechanisms with precision. Our lab has expertise in functional recording and high-resolution imaging. We aim to advance understanding of retinal synaptogenesis and signal pathway regulation that could enable future therapies directed against loss of primary sensory neurons.

Our lab currently has projects directed to accomplish the following goals:

1. To determine how specific connections are established at the visual system’s first synapse

2. To determine how rod vs. cone signals are independently regulated within the retinal circuit.

3. Identify the extent and sites of compensation within the retinal circuitry following partial photoreceptor loss.

4. Determine the contributions of partial stimulation, adaptation, and homeostatic plasticity to retinal responses following partial photoreceptor loss.

5. To determine the degree of input loss that induces constructive vs. destructive structural and functional changes within the retinal circuit.