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  • Dr.  Shai Sabbah
Dr. Shai Sabbah
We are currently recruiting highly motivated candidates for MSc and PhD studies, and talented Medical School and undergraduate students for part time paid positions.
The laboratory of Dr. Shai Sabbah is interested in how organisms perceive the visual world and use this perceptual information to guide their behavior. Thus, by studying the structure and function of genetically distinct retinal and brain circuits, we seek to link the processing of brightness, contrast, color, and motion information to the behavior of animals.
Our current focus is a newly discovered family of retinal output neurons and their role in retinal light adaptation and the pathophysiology of mood disorders.
The ability of the retina and brain to report the absolute light intensity (irradiance) in the environment was first observed half a century ago. However, its physiological basis is still poorly understood. The only retinal output neurons that are capable of transmitting intensity-encoding signals are called ipRGCs - intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells. These intensity signals have a remarkably diverse array of functional effects at many levels of the central nervous system, from modulation of sleep, activity and hormonal rhythms, through regulation of pupil size, to light avoidance and retinal development. New evidence suggests that they affect both the retina itself (a possible substrate for light adaptation) and the limbic thalamus and cortex (through which they appear to mediate effects of light on mood). Our current research is devoted to better understanding both of these novel output modalities of the ipRGC network.
We use mouse genetic models and combine:
  • Reconstruction of neural circuits using light and electron microscopy
  • in vitro and in vivo electrophysiology and functional imaging
  • Optogenetic and chemogenetic manipulations of neural activity
  • Behavioral analysis
These powerful and complementary approaches allow us to reveal the operation of specific neural circuits and their role in shaping the behavior of animals in unprecedented detail.
Sabbah S, Papendorp C, Koplas E, Beltoja M, Etebari C, Gunesch AN, Carrete L, Kim MT, Manoff G, Bhatia-Lin A, Zhao T, Schreck D, Dowling H, Briggman K, Berson DM. (In preparation). Synaptic circuits for irradiance coding by intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells.
Brendan NL, Sabbah S, Hunyara J, Gribble KD, Al-Khindi T, Xiong J, Wu Z, Berson DM, and Kolodkin AL. (2018). Genetic access to accessory optic system circuits reveals a role for Sema6A in midbrain circuitry mediating motion perception. Journal of Clinical Neurology. doi: 10.1002/cne.24507.
Stabio ME, Sondereker KB, Haghgou SD, Day BL, Chidsey B, Sabbah S, Renna JM. (2018). A novel map of the mouse eye for orienting retinal topography in anatomical space. Journal of Comparative Neurology. doi: 10.1002/cne.24446.
Stabio ME, Sabbah S, Quattrochi L, Ilardi MC, Fogerson M, Leyrer M, Renna JM, Kim MT, Kim I, Schiel M, Briggman KL, Berson DM. (2018). The M5 cell: A color-opponent intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cell. Neuron 97, 150-163.
Sabbah S, Gemmer JA, Bhatia-Lin A, Manoff G, Castro G, Siegel JK, Jeffery N and Berson DM. (2017). A retinal code for motion along the gravitational and body axes. Nature (full-length article) 546:492-497.
Featured on journal cover and in:
Demb JB, Clark DA. (2017). Vision: These retinas are made for walkin'. Nature 546:476-477.
Sabbah S, Berg D, Papendorp C, Briggman KL and Berson DM. (2017). A Cre mouse line for probing irradiance- and direction-encoding retinal networks. eNeuro doi:10.1523/eneuro.0065-17.2017.
Fine M, Sabbah S, Shashar N. and Hoegh-Guldberg O. (2013). Light from Down Under. Journal of Experimental Biology 216, 4341-4346.
Sabbah S, Zhu C, Hornsby MAW, Kamermans M and Hawryshyn CW. (2013). Feedback from horizontal cells to cones mediates color induction and may facilitate color constancy in rainbow trout. PLOS One. 8, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0066216.
Hornsby MAW#, Sabbah S#, Robertson RM, and Hawryshyn CW. (2013). Modulation of environmental light alters reception and production of visual signals in Nile tilapia. Journal of Experimental Biology 216, 3110-3122. #equal contribution
Sabbah S, Habib-Nayany MF, Dargaei Z, Hauser FE, Kamermans M and Hawryshyn CW. (2013). Retinal region of polarization sensitivity switches during ontogeny of rainbow trout. Journal of Neuroscience 33, 7428-7438.
Sabbah S, Troje NF, Gray SM and Hawryshyn CW. (2013). High complexity of aquatic irradiance may have driven the evolution of four-dimensional colour vision in shallow-water fish. Journal of Experimental Biology 216, 1670-1682.
Sabbah S, Hui J, Hauser FE, Nelson WA and Hawryshyn CW. (2012). Ontogeny in the visual system of Nile tilapia. Journal of Experimental Biology 215, 2684-2695.
Sabbah S, Gray SM and Hawryshyn CW. (2012). Radiance fluctuations induced by surface waves can enhance the appearance of underwater objects. Limnology & Oceanography 57, 1025–1041.
Gray SM, Sabbah S and Hawryshyn CW. (2011). Experimentally increased turbidity causes behavioural shifts in Lake Malawi cichlids. Ecology of Freshwater Fish 20, 529-536.
Lerner A, Sabbah S, Erlick C and Shashar N. (2011). Navigation by light polarization in clear and turbid ocean. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 366, 671-679.
Shashar N, Johnsen S, Lerner A, Sabbah S, Chiao CC, Mathger LM and Hanlon RT. (2011). Underwater linear polarization - physical limitations to biological functions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 366, 649-654.
Sabbah S, Lamela Laria R, Gray SM and Hawryshyn CW. (2010). Functional diversity in the color vision of cichlid fishes. BMC Biology 8, doi: 10.1186/1741-7007-1188-1133 (Highly accessed status).
Sabbah S, Gray SM, Boss ES, Fraser JM, Zatha R and Hawryshyn CW. (2011). The underwater photic environment of Cape Maclear, Lake Malawi: Comparison between rock- and sand-bottom habitats and implications for cichlid fish vision. Journal of Experimental Biology 214, 487-500.
Sabbah S, Fraser JM, Boss ES, Blum I and Hawryshyn CW. (2010). Hyperspectral portable beam transmissometer for the ultraviolet - visible spectrum. Limnology & Oceanography: Methods 8, 527-538.
Hawryshyn CW, Ramsden SD, Betke KM and Sabbah S. (2010). Spectral and polarization sensitivity of juvenile Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar): phylogenetic considerations. Journal of Experimental Biology 213, 3187-3197.
Anderson LG, Sabbah S and Hawryshyn CW. (2010). Spectral sensitivity of single cones in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss): A whole-cell voltage clamp study. Vision Research 50, 2055-2061.
Sabbah S and Shashar N (2007). The polarization of light under water near sunrise. Journal of the Optical Society of America A 24, 2049-2056.
Sabbah S and Shashar N (2006). Underwater light polarization and radiance fluctuations induced by surface waves. Applied Optics 45, 4726-4739.
Sabbah S and Shashar N (2006). Polarization contrast of zooplankton: A model for polarization-based sighting distance. Vision Research 46, 444-456.
Sabbah S, Barta A, Gál J, Horváth G and Shashar N. (2006). Experimental and theoretical study of skylight polarization transmitted through Snell's window of a flat water surface. Journal of the Optical Society of America A 23, 1978-1988.
Shashar N, Sabbah S and Aharoni N. (2005). Migrating locusts can detect polarized reflections to avoid flying over seas. Biology Letters 1, 472-475. Featured in ‘Research Highlights’ in Nature 436, 306-307 (2005).
Shashar N, Sabbah S and Cronin TW. (2004). Transmission of linearly polarized light in sea water: implications for polarization signaling. Journal of Experimental Biology 207, 3619-3628.

Chapters in Books

Sabbah S, Lerner A, Erlick C and Shashar N. Under water polarization vision- a physical examination. In Recent Research Developments in Experimental & Theoretical Biology. (Transworld Research Network, Trivandrum, 2005), pp. 123-177.
Lab website
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