The nitric oxide- cGMP signaling pathway differentially regulates presynaptic structural plasticity in cone and rod cells

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Although abundant structural plasticity in the form of axonal retraction, neurite extension, and formation of presynaptic varicosities is displayed by photoreceptors after retinal detachment and during genetic and age-related retinal degeneration, the mechanisms involved are mostly unknown. We demonstrated recently that Ca2+ influx through cGMP-gated channels in cones and voltage-gated L-type channels in rods is required for neurite extension in vitro (Zhang and Townes-Anderson, 2002). Here, we report that the nitric oxide (NO)-cGMP signaling pathway is active in photoreceptors and that its manipulation differentially regulates the structural plasticity of cone and rod cells. The NO receptor soluble guanylyl cyclase (sGC) was detected immunocytochemically in both cone and rod cells. Stimulation of sGC increased cGMP production in retinal cultures. In cone cells, quantitative analysis showed that NO or cGMP stimulated neuritic sprouting; this stimulatory effect was dependent on both Ca2+ influx through cGMP-gated channels and phosphorylation by protein kinase G (PKG). At the highest levels of cGMP, however, cone outgrowth was no longer increased. In rod photoreceptors, NO or cGMP consistently inhibited neuritic growth in a dose-dependent manner; this inhibitory effect required PKG. When NO- cGMP signaling was inhibited, changes in the neuritic development of cone and rod cells were also observed but in the opposite direction. These results expand the role of cGMP in axonal activity to adult neuritogenesis and suggest an explanation for the neurite sprouting observed in an autosomal recessive form of retinitis pigmentosa that is characterized by high cGMP levels in photoreceptor layers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2761-2770
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - Mar 9 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)


  • Cone
  • Neurite and varicosity formation
  • Neuritic sprouting
  • Nitric oxide
  • Rod
  • Soluble guanylyl cyclase
  • cGMP


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