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Ning  Tian

Phone: 801-213-2852
Office: S5160, Moran Eye Center

Ning Tian

Adjunct Professor, Bioengineering
M.D., Ph.D.


Visual Neurobiology

Current Research

The assembly of neurons into stereotyped circuits is essential to brain function and the selective wiring of neurons in these circuits provides an anatomical basis for discrete information processing. Loss of the circuit architecture is associated with many CNS diseases including neuropsychiatric manifestations, neurodegeneration and conditions of genetic origin. Thus, understanding how circuit architecture is structured and how its disruption impacts the corresponding function is a topic of great interest for both basic and translational neuroscience. However, because billions of neurons in CNS make many function specific circuit assemblies, understanding how each specific neural circuit is formed is a fundamental challenge. The retina and the synaptic circuits in higher centers of visual system are attractive models for the study of synaptic circuits in CNS.

The research conducted in my laboratory covers the neurobiology and molecular biology of the development, plasticity and degeneration of visual system, specifically the retina. Our research has been continuously supported by NIH and other Federal and private funding agents for more than 20 years. Currently, our studies are supported by NIH and Department of Veterans Affairs. One project focuses on the developmental regulation of the synaptic circuits of the visual system. We use genetic, physiological, molecular, imaging and behavioral approaches to investigate the structure, function and regulatory mechanisms of synaptic circuit formation of visual system. Another project focuses on the study of the mechanisms, which regulate the neuronal death and regeneration due to traumatic injuries. Specifically, we use genetic, physiological, molecular, in vivo and in vitro imaging and behavioral approaches to identify the mechanisms, which control the vulnerability of retinal ganglion cells to traumatic injuries and to develop treatment strategy to protect the neurons from death. Many of the approaches we used in our study, such as large scale imaging, mapping of synaptic circuits in retina and brain, large scale neuronal activity recording and analysis, building and developing novel behavioral testing setup for testing of visual perception of mice, genetic engineering manipulation of single neuron activity, etc., could potentially suitable for training of graduate students who are interested in neuronal development, plasticity, degeneration, protection and regeneration. The concepts, the techniques, the genetic tools, the animal models and what we learn about circuit assembly in visual system will not only help to illustrate how the retinal synaptic circuits are constructed under normal and impaired conditions, it will also help to elucidate basic principles that can eventually be applied to CNS disorders in which circuit architecture may be compromised.

Selected Publications

He T, Mortensen X, Wang P, Tian N, The effects of immune protein CD3? development and degeneration of retinal neurons after optic nerve injury. PLoS One 2017;12(4):e0175522

Tian N, Xu HP, Wang P, Dopamine D2 receptors preferentially regulate the development of light responses of the inner retina. Eur J Neurosci 2015 Jan;41(1):17-30

Chen H, Liu X, Tian N, Subtype-dependent postnatal development of direction- and orientation-selective retinal ganglion cells in mice. J Neurophysiol 2014 Nov 1;112(9):2092-101

Xu HP, Sun JH, Tian N, A general principle governs vision-dependent dendritic patterning of retinal ganglion cells. J Comp Neurol 2014 Oct 15;522(15):3403-22

Križaj D, Ryskamp DA, Tian N, Tezel G, Mitchell CH, Slepak VZ, Shestopalov VI, From mechanosensitivity to inflammatory responses: new players in the pathology of glaucoma. Curr Eye Res 2014 Feb;39(2):105-19

He Q, Xu HP, Wang P, Tian N, Dopamine D1 receptors regulate the light dependent development of retinal synaptic responses. PLoS One 2013;8(11):e79625

Tian N, Developmental mechanisms that regulate retinal ganglion cell dendritic morphology. Dev Neurobiol 2011 Dec;71(12):1297-309

Barabas P, Huang W, Chen H, Koehler CL, Howell G, John SW, Tian N, Renterķa RC, Krizaj D, Missing optomotor head-turning reflex in the DBA/2J mouse. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 2011 Aug 29;52(9):6766-73

Ding C, Wang P, Tian N, Effect of general anesthetics on IOP in elevated IOP mouse model. Exp Eye Res 2011 Jun;92(6):512-20

Xu HP, Furman M, Mineur YS, Chen H, King SL, Zenisek D, Zhou ZJ, Butts DA, Tian N, Picciotto MR, Crair MC, An instructive role for patterned spontaneous retinal activity in mouse visual map development. Neuron 2011 Jun 23;70(6):1115-27

He Q, Wang P, Tian N, Light-evoked synaptic activity of retinal ganglion and amacrine cells is regulated in developing mouse retina. Eur J Neurosci 2011 Jan;33(1):36-48

Greten-Harrison B, Polydoro M, Morimoto-Tomita M, Diao L, Williams AM, Nie EH, Makani S, Tian N, Castillo PE, Buchman VL, Chandra SS, aß?-Synuclein triple knockout mice reveal age-dependent neuronal dysfunction. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2010 Nov 9;107(45):19573-8

Xu HP, Chen H, Ding Q, Xie ZH, Chen L, Diao L, Wang P, Gan L, Crair MC, Tian N, The immune protein CD3zeta is required for normal development of neural circuits in the retina. Neuron 2010 Feb 25;65(4):503-15

Ding Q, Chen H, Xie X, Libby RT, Tian N, Gan L, BARHL2 differentially regulates the development of retinal amacrine and ganglion neurons. J Neurosci 2009 Apr 1;29(13):3992-4003

Tian N, Synaptic activity, visual experience and the maturation of retinal synaptic circuitry. J Physiol 2008 Sep 15;586(Pt 18):4347-55

Xu HP, Tian N, Glycine receptor-mediated synaptic transmission regulates the maturation of ganglion cell synaptic connectivity. J Comp Neurol 2008 Jul 1;509(1):53-71

Xu HP, Tian N, Retinal ganglion cell dendrites undergo a visual activity-dependent redistribution after eye opening. J Comp Neurol 2007 Jul 10;503(2):244-59

Renterķa RC, Tian N, Cang J, Nakanishi S, Stryker MP, Copenhagen DR, Intrinsic ON responses of the retinal OFF pathway are suppressed by the ON pathway. J Neurosci 2006 Nov 15;26(46):11857-69

Gastinger MJ, Tian N, Horvath T, Marshak DW, Retinopetal axons in mammals: emphasis on histamine and serotonin. Curr Eye Res 2006 Jul-Aug;31(7-8):655-67

Tian N, Visual experience and maturation of retinal synaptic pathways. Vision Res 2004 Dec;44(28):3307-16

Xu H, Tian N, Pathway-specific maturation, visual deprivation, and development of retinal pathway. Neuroscientist 2004 Aug;10(4):337-46

Vistamehr S, Tian N, Light deprivation suppresses the light response of inner retina in both young and adult mouse. Vis Neurosci 2004 Jan-Feb;21(1):23-37

Tian N, Slaughter MM, Structure of glutamate analogs that activate the ON bipolar cell metabotropic glutamate receptor in vertebrate retina. Vis Neurosci 2003 May-Jun;20(3):231-40

Tian N, Copenhagen DR, Visual stimulation is required for refinement of ON and OFF pathways in postnatal retina. Neuron 2003 Jul 3;39(1):85-96

Johnson J, Tian N, Caywood MS, Reimer RJ, Edwards RH, Copenhagen DR, Vesicular neurotransmitter transporter expression in developing postnatal rodent retina: GABA and glycine precede glutamate. J Neurosci 2003 Jan 15;23(2):518-29

Tian N, Copenhagen DR, Visual deprivation alters development of synaptic function in inner retina after eye opening. Neuron 2001 Nov 8;32(3):439-49

Kleiman RJ, Tian N, Krizaj D, Hwang TN, Copenhagen DR, Reichardt LF, BDNF-Induced potentiation of spontaneous twitching in innervated myocytes requires calcium release from intracellular stores. J Neurophysiol 2000 Jul;84(1):472-83

Tian N, Petersen C, Kash S, Baekkeskov S, Copenhagen D, Nicoll R, The role of the synthetic enzyme GAD65 in the control of neuronal gamma-aminobutyric acid release. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1999 Oct 26;96(22):12911-6

Zhang J, Tian N, Slaughter MM, Neuronal discriminator formed by metabotropic gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors. J Neurophysiol 1998 Dec;80(6):3365-8

Tian N, Hwang TN, Copenhagen DR, Analysis of excitatory and inhibitory spontaneous synaptic activity in mouse retinal ganglion cells. J Neurophysiol 1998 Sep;80(3):1327-40

Tian N, Slaughter MM, Functional properties of a metabotropic glutamate receptor at dendritic synapses of ON bipolar cells in the amphibian retina. Vis Neurosci 1995 Jul-Aug;12(4):755-65

Tian N, Slaughter MM, Correlation of dynamic responses in the ON bipolar neuron and the b-wave of the electroretinogram. Vision Res 1995 May;35(10):1359-64

Tian N, Slaughter MM, Pharmacology of the GABAB receptor in amphibian retina. Brain Res 1994 Oct 17;660(2):267-74

Tian N, Slaughter MM, Pharmacological similarity between the retinal APB receptor and the family of metabotropic glutamate receptors. J Neurophysiol 1994 Jun;71(6):2258-68

Yang S, Wu DZ, Tian N, Wu L, Contrast sensitivity in amblyopia. Yan Ke Xue Bao 1991 Mar;7(1):25-8

Tian N, [Contrast sensitivity in open-angle glaucoma]. Zhonghua Yan Ke Za Zhi 1990 Jan;26(1):6-9

Wu LZ, Chen YZ, Chao XY, Huang ZS, Xu XJ, Xin DY, Tian N, Wu FG, Liu AQ, Tang SB, [Aging macular degeneration in Tibetan and Han]. Yan Ke Xue Bao 1987 Sep;3(3):179-81

Tian N, Wu DZ, Wu LZ, [Contrast sensitivity versus visual acuity in aging macular degeneration]. Yan Ke Xue Bao 1987 Sep;3(3):193-7

Tian N, Wu DZ, Wu LZ, [Contrast sensitivity in early senile cataract]. Yan Ke Xue Bao 1987 Jun;3(2):99-103