How ribbons make ‘sense’ for vision

Wallace B. Thoreson, Cassandra L. Hays

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The processing of light by the retina and brain provides the basis for visual perception. Photons are captured and converted to electrical signals by rod and cone photoreceptor cells in the retina. These electrical signals are converted to chemical signals for transmission to downstream neurons. This article provides an overview of the mechanisms involved in transmitting light responses from rods and cones. Chemical signalling occurs at synapses between neurons. In keeping with many other neurons, the chemical messenger released by photoreceptors is the amino acid glutamate, which is packaged into small spherical vesicles. Each photoreceptor synaptic terminal has thousands of synaptic vesicles. Some of these vesicles are attached to the face of planar structures known as ribbons. Ribbons capture and deliver vesicles to release sites at the bottom of the ribbon. Upon stimulation, vesicles fuse with the cell membrane and release their contents. Glutamate molecules diffuse through the extracellular space to reach specialized receptors that regulate the activity of downstream neurons. We discuss how rates of vesicle attachment to ribbons, delivery of vesicles down the ribbon and the release of glutamate shape the information provided to downstream neurons in the visual system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)36-41
Number of pages6
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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