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Ribbon Synapse in the Retina
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Ribbon Synapse

Purpose: Illustrate the structure and scale of a retinal ribbon synapse, a unique conveyer belt-like structure enabling the tonic neurotransmitter release characteristic of photoreceptors.

Target Audience: Neurobiology researchers

Medium: Autodesk 3D Studio Max


Behind the Scenes: This illustration was inspired by my undergraduate research in retinal electrophysiology. My lab studied pH regulation in the synaptic space. My goal in this project was to see that space 'in vivo' via 3D modelling. It was astonishing to see just how small the synapse is. Below is an EM image from one of my reference papers showing an actual ribbon synapse. On the right I colored the photoreceptor blue, the two secondary cells (a bipolar and a horizontal cell, if you're curious) green, and pointed to the very thin line of extracellular space between them. That space is where I was measuring pH in undergrad. Which is why we had to dissociate the cells in order to make room for our instruments.

EM of retina ribbon synapse ┬ęTownes-Anderson et al., 1985. Originally published in Journal of Cell Biology. doi:10.1083/jcb.100.1.175
Reprinted under a Creative Commons License