Synaptic Physiology of the Retina

PI: Norbert Babai



The retina with its millions of neurons interconnected by billions of electrical and chemical synapses processes and analyses key aspects of visual information. The first synapse in visual signal processing is the photoreceptor ribbon synapse, a highly complex chemical synapse specialized for the fast and continuous release of glutamate onto postsynaptic bipolar and horizontal cells.


In my research, I try to decipher photoreceptor ribbon synaptic function. More specifically, I want to understand how the different components of the synaptic machinery, e.g. the synaptic ribbon, synaptic vesicles, voltage-sensitive Ca2+ channels, pre- and postsynaptic neurotransmitter receptors, synaptic regulatory proteins etc. contribute to the sophisticated performance of the synapse in the adult and the developing retina.


Preparations include retinal slices and whole mount retinae from adult and postnatal developing mice. In my experiments, I employ a variety of different electrophysiological and imaging techniques. Electrophysiological experiments involve whole cell patch clamp technique in current and voltage clamp mode and light and electric stimulation of the photoreceptors. Imaging experiments include Ca2+ imaging with single wavelength and ratiometric Ca2+ dyes, laser scanning confocal microscopy, two photon and electron microscopy.

Selected Publications

  • Davison A, Lux UT, Brandstätter JH, Babai N (2022) T-type Ca2+ channels boost neurotransmission in mammalian cone photoreceptors. J Neurosci, in press
  • Babai N, Gierke K, Müller T, Regus-Leidig H, Brandstätter JH, Feigenspan A (2019) Signal transmission at invaginating cone photoreceptor synaptic contacts following deletion of the presynaptic cytomatrix protein Bassoon in mouse retina. Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2019 Jun;226(2):e13241. doi: 10.1111/apha.13241. Epub 2019 Jan 12. PMID: 30554473
  • Löhner M, Babai N, Müller T, Gierke K, Altorf J, Joachimsthaler A, Peukert A, Martens H, Feigenspan A, Kremers J, Schoch S, Brandstätter JH, Regus-Leidig H (2017) Analysis of RIM expression and function at mouse photoreceptor ribbbon synapses. J Neurosci. 2017 Aug 16;37(33):7848-7863. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2795-16.2017. Epub 2017 Jul 12. PMID: 28701482
  • Babai N, Sendelbeck A, Regus-Leidig H, Fuchs M, Mertins J, Reim K, Brose N, Feigenspan A, Brandstätter JH (2016) Functional roles of Complexin 3 and Complexin 4 at mouse photoreceptor ribbon synapses. J Neurosci. 2016 Jun 22;36(25):6651-67. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4335-15.2016. PMID: 27335398
  • Kochubey O, Babai N, Schneggenburger R (2016) A Synaptotagmin Isoform Switch during the Development of an Identified CNS Synapse. Neuron. 2016 Jun 1;90(5):984-99. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2016.04.038. Epub 2016 May 19. PMID: 27210552
  • Feigenspan A, Babai N (2015) Functional properties of spontaneous excitatory currents and encoding of light/dark transitions in horizontal cells of the mouse retina. Eur J Neurosci. 2015 Nov;42(9):2615-32. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13016. Epub 2015 Jul 30. PMID: 26173960
  • Babai N, Kochubey O, Keller D, Schneggenburger R (2014) An alien divalent ion reveals a major role for Ca²⁺ buffering in controlling slow transmitter release. J Neurosci. 2014 Sep 17;34(38):12622-35. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1990-14.2014. PMID: 25232102
  • Michalski N, Babai N, Renier N, Perkel DJ, Chédotal A, Schneggenburger R (2013) Robo3-driven axon midline crossing conditions functional maturation of a large commissural synapse. Neuron. 2013 Jun 5;78(5):855-68. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.04.006. Epub 2013 May 9. PMID: 23664551
  • Snellman J, Mehta B, Babai N, Bartoletti TM, Akmentin W, Francis A, Matthews G, Thoreson WB, Zenisek D (2011) Acute destruction of the synaptic ribbon reveals a role for the ribbon in vesicle priming. Nat Neurosci. 2011 Jul 24;14(9):1135-41. doi: 10.1038/nn.2870. PMID: 21785435
  • Babai N, Bartoletti TM, Thoreson WB (2010) Calcium regulates vesicle replenishment at the cone ribbon synapse. J Neurosci. 2010 Nov 24;30(47):15866-77. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2891-10.2010. PMID: 21106825
  • Babai N, Morgans CW, Thoreson WB (2010) Calcium-induced calcium release contributes to synaptic release from mouse rod photoreceptors. Neuroscience. 2010 Feb 17;165(4):1447-56. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.11.032. Epub 2009 Nov 22. PMID: 19932743
  • Babai N, Thoreson WB (2009) Horizontal cell feedback regulates calcium currents and intracellular calcium levels in rod photoreceptors of salamander and mouse retina. J. Physiol. 2009 May 15;587(Pt 10):2353-64. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2009.169656. Epub 2009 Mar 30. PMID: 19332495

Publications in PubMed