The vertebrate retina is an array of “narrow-capture” photoreceptive elements of diverse cellular types that allow the fine spatial resolution characteristic of vision. Imaging of photoreceptors and of the whole retina has been previously reported; however, both were achieved exclusively after fixation. We report our development of a new technique for imaging live bovine retinas ex vivo. Using this technique, we conducted fluorescence confocal laser scanning microscopic imaging of bovine retinas. Eyecups were incubated with conventional fluorescent mitochondrial probes (MitoTracker and JC-1). Unexpectedly, we found that, besides the retinal mitochondria, the rod outer segments that are devoid of mitochondria were also stained. No other neuron was stained. Both protonophores, which decrease mitochondrial membrane potential, or inhibit electron transport strongly inhibited the selective association of dyes with both retinal rod outer segments and mitochondria. This is the first time that living rod outer segments were visualized by this technique. This finding may shed light on previous reports of the existence of a proton potential across the disk membranes and on the mechanism of the adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP) supply for phototransduction, which still requires investigation.
Vertebrate retinal rod outer segment disks house the proteins involved in the phototransduction cascade that converts light into neuronal signal. We develop a technique for the immunofluorescent labeling of osmotically intact isolated rod outer segment disks for confocal laser scanning microscopy imaging. Osmotically intact Ficoll-flotation isolated bovine disks are directly labeled with antibodies in solution. For the first time, osmotically intact single disks can be visualized. Thus, imaging of purified disks, based on advanced optical techniques, may serve as a powerful complement to other methods in studies on phototransduction. In fact, even though much is known about the rod outer segment photoresponse, some unanswered questions remain, particularly about ATP supply, light adaptation, and morphogenesis.