Vaithianathan receives $1.9 million grant for retinal research



Credit: UTHSC

Memphis, Tenn. (February 4, 2021) – Thirumalini Vaithianathan, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology, Addiction Science, and Toxicology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, has spent a decade studying molecular signaling involved in vision. She has just received $1.9 million from the National Eye Institute for her project titled, “Dynamics of calcium signals control neurotransmitter release in retinal ribbon Synapses”.

The goal of Dr. Vaithianathan’s project is to provide a deeper understanding of calcium signaling controlling the release of chemical messengers at neural communication sites in the retina. Using animal models, she will study these submicron signals in living retinal ribbon synapses during development, normal adulthood, and disease. Dr. Vaithianathan will be using novel approaches combining state-of-the-art fluorescence imaging and voltage-clamp electrophysiology (a technique to measure ion currents across the cell membrane) to directly monitor calcium signaling in neurotransmission.

“Calcium signaling is a key player in human health and disease,” Dr. Vaithianathan said. “Our project will develop strategies to directly monitor calcium signaling in neurotransmission. We address this question particularly in the visual system for a deep and comprehensive investigation of how calcium signals control neurotransmission and encode what we ‘see’. Full understanding of calcium signaling in visual system health and disease will allow for the eventual development of therapeutic interventions to prevent and counteract neurodegeneration.”


As Tennessee’s only public, statewide, academic health system, the mission of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center is to bring the benefits of the health sciences to the achievement and maintenance of human health through education, research, clinical care, and public service, with a focus on the citizens of Tennessee and the region. The main campus in Memphis includes six colleges: Dentistry, Graduate Health Sciences, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. UTHSC also educates and trains medicine, pharmacy, and/or health professions students, as well as medical residents and fellows, at major sites in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville. For more information, visit Find us on Facebook:, on Twitter: and on Instagram:

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