The encapsulation of the retina inside the eye has always challenged our ability to study the anatomy and physiology of retinal neurons in their native state. Our group is developing new tools using adaptive optics that allow not only structural imaging but also functional recording and control of retinal neurons at a cellular spatial scale. By combining adaptive optics with calcium imaging, we can optically record from hundreds of ganglion cells in the nonhuman primate eye over periods as along as years. This approach is especially well-suited for recording from cells serving the central fovea, which has been difficult to access with microelectrodes. Using optogenetics, we can also directly excite these same ganglion cells with light in the living animal. These capabilities together establish a two-way communication link with retinal ganglion cells. I will discuss the advantages and the current limitations of these approaches, as well as speculate about possible future applications for vision restoration and understanding the role of the retina in perception.
David Williams received his Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego in 1979. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Bell Laboratories, Murray Hill in 1980 and joined the University of Rochester in 1981, where he is currently William G. Allyn Professor of Medical Optics in the Institute of Optics and Director of the Center for Visual Science. Williams' interests include the optical and neural limits on spatial and color vision, functional imaging of the retina, optical instrumentation for the eye, and vision restoration.