Wei Li, Ph.D.

Senior Investigator

Retinal Neurophysiology Section


Building 35A, Room 3F226,35A Convent Drive,Bethesda,MD-20892-3739



Research Topics

Our unit studies the structure and function of retinal synapses and circuits. Although we know the basic structure and major cell types of the retina, it remains much of a "black box" in terms of the connections and functions of these neurons. Our long-term research goal is to understand how the neuronal circuits are wired in this "black box" under normal conditions and how the circuits are altered during pathological processes. Both pieces of information will be crucial for the design of biological and/or prosthetic interventions aiming to restore vision in many types of blindness caused by retinal degenerative diseases. Here are some of the research topics: 1) we exploit a combination of anatomical, physiological, and imaging approaches to study synaptic connectivity using in vitro slice and flat-mount preparations of the ground squirrel retina. This is an excellent model system to study cone vision, as the ground squirrel is one of the rare mammals whose retina is cone-dominated and resembles the fovea of human retina. 2) We study synaptic alteration and adaptation in the ground squirrel retina during hibernation - another unique feature of the ground squirrel. 3) We investigate bioenergetics of the retina with a focus on cone photoreceptor mitochondria structure, function and dynamics. 4) We use a combination of genetically engineered mouse lines to study the development of certain synapses and circuits in the mouse retina.


Dr. Li received his medical degree in 1997 from Zhejiang University School of Medicine in China and his Ph.D. in Neuroscience in 2003 from the University of Texas at Houston where he studied the organization of reciprocal feedback synapse at the axon terminal of the retinal bipolar cell in Dr. Stephen Massey's laboratory. From 2003 to 2007, as a postdoctoral fellow, he worked with Dr. Steven DeVries at Northwestern University where he investigated synaptic connections between photoreceptors and bipolar neurons in a mammalian retina. Dr. Li joined NEI as the principal investigator of the Unit on Retinal Neurophysiology in 2007. His unit uses a variety of physiological and anatomical techniques to explore retinal synapses and circuits and their functions in vision.

Selected Publications

  1. Ou J, Ball JM, Luan Y, Zhao T, Miyagishima KJ, Xu Y, Zhou H, Chen J, Merriman DK, Xie Z, Mallon BS, Li W. iPSCs from a Hibernator Provide a Platform for Studying Cold Adaptation and Its Potential Medical Applications. Cell. 2018;173(4):851-863.e16.

  2. Fan J, Jia L, Li Y, Ebrahim S, May-Simera H, Wood A, Morell RJ, Liu P, Lei J, Kachar B, Belluscio L, Qian H, Li T, Li W, Wistow G, Dong L. Maturation arrest in early postnatal sensory receptors by deletion of the miR-183/96/182 cluster in mouse. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017;114(21):E4271-E4280.

  3. Mehta B, Snellman J, Chen S, Li W, Zenisek D. Synaptic ribbons influence the size and frequency of miniature-like evoked postsynaptic currents. Neuron. 2013;77(3):516-27.

  4. Chen S, Li W. A color-coding amacrine cell may provide a blue-off signal in a mammalian retina. Nat Neurosci. 2012;15(7):954-6.

  5. Li W, Chen S, DeVries SH. A fast rod photoreceptor signaling pathway in the mammalian retina. Nat Neurosci. 2010;13(4):414-6.

This page was last updated on August 13th, 2020