Dr. Mowat has worked to develop a deep understanding of the architecture of the central retina of the dog.
As humans we have a specialized region of extremely high cone photoreceptor density, known as the fovea, where most of our "quality" visual tasks are focused, for example reading and color perception. Dogs do not possess a traditional fovea, but have a region of enriched cone photoreceptor density, known as the area centralis. This region may vary in location and prominence between different breeds of dogs.
Cone density maps with correlation to predicted area centralis. Nine eyes from 5 animals were examined. A shows all 9 retinas used in analysis, demonstrating a marked visual streak of high cone density with an area centralis temporal to the optic nerve head. Data sets were reflected as necessary to represent all eyes as right. Orientation is depicted: nasal (N), temporal (T), superior (S), and inferior (I). B shows the average calculation from all 9 retinas demonstrating the mean density in the visual streak and a predictable location of the area centralis 0.4 optic nerve head (ONH) diameters superior and 1.1 ONH diameters temporal to the optic disc. Link to article.
The human fovea
The fovea and surrounding macula of people is photoreceptor dense, and at risk of certain devastating blinding diseases such as age-related macular degeneration andmacular dystrophy. We wish to explore the unique susceptibility of the canine area centralis to disease, to better define why the macula might be at risk of disease. The ultimate goal is to find solutions for human sufferers of blinding diseases.
. Future directions
The Mowat lab is developing non-invasive methods to understand and separate the functions of different photoreceptors in the retina of dogs, and to examine the exact photoreceptor makeup in the canine area centralis. We are working to define what makes the area centralis unique compared with the peripheral retina, which may lead us to understand better why the human fovea and surrounding macula is more susceptible to diseases such as age-related macular degeneration.
We are also studying the role of mitochondrial health in aging and disease of the retina, particularly the role of a master regulator of mitochondrial function - peroxisome proliferative activated receptor gamma, coactivator 1-alpha (PPARGC1a or PGC1a).