Degeneration of the neural retina is the leading cause of untreatable blindness in the developed world. Stem cell replacement therapy offers a novel strategy for retinal repair. Postmitotic photoreceptor precursors derived from the early postnatal (P) retina are able to migrate and integrate into the adult mouse retina following transplantation into the subretinal space, but it is likely that a large number of these cells would be required to restore vision. The adult recipient retina presents a very different environment to that from which photoreceptor precursor donor cells isolated from the developing postnatal retina are derived. Here we considered the possibility that modulation of the recipient environment by ectopic expression of developmentally regulated growth factors, normally present during photoreceptor development, might enhance the migration and integration of transplanted cells into the adult neural retina. Adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors were used to introduce three growth factors previously reported to play a role in photoreceptor development, IGF1, FGF2, and CNTF, into the adult retina, prior to transplantation of P4 cells derived from the Nrl.GFP+ve neural retina. At 3 weeks posttransplantation the number of integrated, differentiated photoreceptor cells present in AAV-mediated neurotrophic factor-treated eyes was assessed and compared to control treated contralateral eyes. We show, firstly, that it is possible to manipulate the recipient retinal microenvironment via rAAV-mediated gene transfer with respect to these developmentally relevant growth factors. Moreover, when combined with cell transplantation, AAV-mediated expression of IGF1 led to significantly increased levels of cell integration, while overexpression of FGF2 had no significant effect on integrated cell number. Conversely, expression of CNTF led to a significant decrease in cell integration and an exacerbated glial response that led to glial scarring. Together, these findings demonstrate the importance of the extrinsic environment of the recipient retina for photoreceptor cell transplantation and show for the first time that it is possible to manipulate this environment using viral vectors to influence photoreceptor transplantation efficiency.
Photoreceptor; Retina; Transplantation; Neurotrophic factors; Gene therapy; Stem cell
Retinal degeneration is the leading cause of untreatable blindness in the developed world. Cell transplantation strategies provide a novel therapeutic approach to repair the retina and restore sight. Previously, we have shown that photoreceptor precursor cells can integrate and form functional photoreceptors after transplantation into the subretinal space of the adult mouse. In a clinical setting, however, it is likely that far greater numbers of integrated photoreceptors would be required to restore visual function. We therefore sought to assess whether the outer limiting membrane (OLM), a natural barrier between the subretinal space and the outer nuclear layer (ONL), could be reversibly disrupted and if disruption of this barrier could lead to enhanced numbers of transplanted photoreceptors integrating into the ONL. Transient chemical disruption of the OLM was induced in adult mice using the glial toxin, dl-alpha-aminoadipic acid (AAA). Dissociated early post-natal neural retinal cells were transplanted via subretinal injection at various time-points after AAA administration. At 3 weeks post-injection, the number of integrated, differentiated photoreceptor cells was assessed and compared with those found in the PBS-treated contralateral eye. We demonstrate for the first time that the OLM can be reversibly disrupted in adult mice, using a specific dose of AAA administered by intravitreal injection. In this model, OLM disruption is maximal at 72 h, and recovers by 2 weeks. When combined with cell transplantation, disruption of the OLM leads to a significant increase in the number of photoreceptors integrated within the ONL compared with PBS-treated controls. This effect was only seen in animals in which AAA had been administered 72 h prior to transplantation, i.e. when precursor cells were delivered into the subretinal space at a time coincident with maximal OLM disruption. These findings suggest that the OLM presents a physical barrier to photoreceptor integration following transplantation into the subretinal space in the adult mouse. Reversible disruption of the OLM may provide a strategy for increasing cell integration in future therapeutic applications.
retinal transplantation; Müller cell; outer limiting membrane; cell integration; photoreceptor; stem cells; mouse
Some of the most common causes of blindness involve the degeneration of photoreceptors in the neural retina; photoreceptor replacement therapy might restore some vision in these individuals. Embryonic stem (ES) cells could in principle provide a source of photoreceptors to repair the retina. We have previously shown that retinal progenitors can be efficiently derived from human ES cells. We now show that retinal cells derived from human ES cells will migrate into mouse retinas following intra-ocular injection, settle into the appropriate layers and express markers for differentiated cells, including both rod and cone photoreceptor cells. After transplantation of the cells into the subretinal space of adult Crx -/- mice (a model of Leber's Congenital Amaurosis), the hES cell derived retinal cells differentiate into functional photoreceptors and restore light responses to the animals. These results demonstrate that hES cells can, in principle, be used for photoreceptor replacement therapies.
Transplantation as a therapeutic strategy for inherited retinal degeneration has been historically viewed to restore vision as a method by replacing the lost retinal cells and attempting to reconstruct the neural circuitry with stem cells, progenitor cells and mature neural retinal cells.
Methods and Findings
We present evidence for an alternative strategy aimed at preventing the secondary loss of cones, the most crucial photoreceptors for vision, by transplanting normal photoreceptors cells into the eye of the P23H rat, a model of dominant retinitis pigmentosa. We carried out transplantation of photoreceptors or total neural retina in 3-month-old P23H rats and evaluated the function and cell counts 6 months after surgery. In both groups, cone loss was significantly reduced (10%) in the transplanted eyes where the cone outer segments were found to be considerably longer. This morphological effect correlated with maintenance of the visual function of cones as scored by photopic ERG recording, but more precisely with an increase in the photopic b-wave amplitudes by 100% and 78% for photoreceptor transplantation and whole retinal transplantation respectively.
We demonstrate here that the transplanted tissue prevents the loss of cone function, which is further translated into cone survival.
Retinal degeneration is a leading cause of irreversible blindness in the developed world. Differentiation of retinal cells, including photoreceptors, from both mouse and human ES and iPS cells, potentially provide a renewable source of cells for retinal transplantation. Previously, we have shown both the functional integration of transplanted rod photoreceptor precursors, isolated from the postnatal retina, in the adult murine retina, and photoreceptor cell generation by stepwise treatment of ES cells with defined factors. In this study we assessed the extent to which this protocol recapitulates retinal development and also evaluated differentiation and integration of ES cell-derived retinal cells following transplantation using our established procedures. Optimized retinal differentiation via isolation of Rax.GFP retinal progenitors recreated a retinal niche and increased the yield of Crx+ and Rhodopsin+ photoreceptors. Rod birth peaked at day 20 of culture and expression of the early photoreceptor markers Crx and Nrl increased until day 28. Nrl levels were low in ES cell-derived populations compared with developing retinae. Transplantation of early stage retinal cultures produced large tumors, which were avoided by prolonged retinal differentiation (up to day 28) prior to transplantation. Integrated mature photoreceptors were not observed in the adult retina, even when more than 60% of transplanted ES cell-derived cells expressed Crx. We conclude that exclusion of proliferative cells from ES cell-derived cultures is essential for effective transplantation. Despite showing expression profiles characteristic of immature photoreceptors, the ES cell-derived precursors generated using this protocol did not display transplantation competence equivalent to precursors from the postnatal retina.
Embryonic stem cells; Retina; Cell transplantation; Photoreceptor cells; Fluorescent protein reporter genes; Stem cell transplantation
Cell based therapy offers hope to individuals that have lost their sight through retinal degenerations. Previous studies have found that photoreceptors from immature mice can be successfully transplanted to the mature mouse retina; however, rod photoreceptors from adult donors failed to integrate into the host retina following transplantation. The authors have found that rod photoreceptors from adult mice can be successfully transplanted to the mature retina and this provides a potentially new avenue for cell based therapy.
Previous studies indicate that early postnatal mouse photoreceptors have the ability to integrate into the mature host retina after transplantation, while progenitors and fully differentiated photoreceptors do not. The authors sought to determine whether the decline in the ability of photoreceptors to integrate after transplantation with increasing age is related to a loss of migratory ability in the adult neurons or by a decrease in their survival.
Dissociated retinal cells were transferred from green fluorescent protein–positive (GFP+) donor mice of ages ranging from embryonic day (E)12.5 to adults (>28 days postnatal [P]). Immunofluorescence was used to assess marker expression and the morphology of integrated cells. In vitro cultures of dissociated Nrl-GFP mice were used to assay survival.
It was confirmed in previous reports that neonatal rods integrate into adult hosts. However, in contrast to previous reports, the age of the donor cell was not as critical as previously reported, because it was found that donor cells older than P11 effectively integrated into adult host retina. Although fully adult photoreceptors (P28 and older) show a higher transplant failure rate than immature ones (P5), successful transplants had very similar numbers of integrated cells for both mature and immature donors. Integrated cells from all ages were indistinguishable from those of the host in morphology and marker expression.
Fully mature photoreceptors retain the ability to integrate into the mature retina. The authors propose that their potential for integration is limited primarily by their decreased survival after dissociation.
Retinal degenerative disease causing loss of photoreceptor cells is the leading cause of untreatable blindness in the developed world, with inherited degeneration affecting 1 in 3000 people. Visual acuity deteriorates rapidly once the cone photoreceptors die, as these cells provide daylight and colour vision. Here, in proof-of-principle experiments, we demonstrate the feasibility of cone photoreceptor transplantation into the wild-type and degenerating retina of two genetic models of Leber congenital amaurosis, the Crb1rd8/rd8 and Gucy2e−/− mouse. Crx-expressing cells were flow-sorted from the developing retina of CrxGFP transgenic mice and transplanted into adult recipient retinae; CrxGFP is a marker of cone and rod photoreceptor commitment. Only the embryonic-stage Crx-positive donor cells integrated within the outer nuclear layer of the recipient and differentiated into new cones, whereas postnatal cells generated a 10-fold higher number of rods compared with embryonic-stage donors. New cone photoreceptors displayed unambiguous morphological cone features and expressed mature cone markers. Importantly, we found that the adult environment influences the number of integrating cones and favours rod integration. New cones and rods were observed in ratios similar to that of the host retina (1:35) even when the transplanted population consisted primarily of cone precursors. Cone integration efficiency was highest in the cone-deficient Gucy2e−/− retina suggesting that cone depletion creates a more optimal environment for cone transplantation. This is the first comprehensive study demonstrating the feasibility of cone transplantation into the adult retina. We conclude that flow-sorted embryonic-stage Crx-positive donor cells have the potential to replace lost cones, as well as rods, an important requirement for retinal disease therapy.
Retinal degenerative diseases are a major cause of untreatable blindness. Stem cell therapy to replace lost photoreceptors represents a feasible future treatment. We previously demonstrated that postmitotic photoreceptor precursors expressing an NrlGFP transgene integrate into the diseased retina and restore some light sensitivity. As genetic modification of precursor cells derived from stem cell cultures is not desirable for therapy, we have tested cell selection strategies using fluorochrome-conjugated antibodies recognizing cell surface antigens to sort photoreceptor precursors. Microarray analysis of postnatal NrlGFP-expressing precursors identified four candidate genes encoding cell surface antigens (Nt5e, Prom1, Podxl, and Cd24a). To test the feasibility of using donor cells isolated using cell surface markers for retinal therapy, cells selected from developing retinae by fluorescence-activated cell sorting based on Cd24a expression (using CD24 antibody) and/or Nt5e expression (using CD73 antibody) were transplanted into the wild-type or Crb1rd8/rd8 or Prph2rd2/rd2 mouse eye. The CD73/CD24-sorted cells migrated into the outer nuclear layer, acquired the morphology of mature photoreceptors and expressed outer segment markers. They showed an 18-fold higher integration efficiency than that of unsorted cells and 2.3-fold higher than cells sorted based on a single genetic marker, NrlGFP, expression. These proof-of-principle studies show that transplantation competent photoreceptor precursor cells can be efficiently isolated from a heterogeneous mix of cells using cell surface antigens without loss of viability for the purpose of retinal stem cell therapy. Refinement of the selection of donor photoreceptor precursor cells can increase the number of integrated photoreceptor cells, which is a prerequisite for the restoration of sight.
Retina; Cell transplantation; Cell surface markers; fluorescence-activated cell sorting; Stem cell transplantation; Fluorescent protein reporter genes; Microarray; Embryonic stem cells
Embryonic stem (ES) cells differentiate into all cell types of the body during development, including those of the central nervous system (CNS). After transplantation, stem cells have the potential to replace host cells lost due to injury or disease or to supply host tissues with therapeutic factors and thus provide a functional benefit. In the current study, we assessed whether mouse neuralized ES cells can incorporate into retinal tissue and prevent retinal degeneration in mnd mice. These mice have an inherited lysosomal storage disease characterized by retinal and CNS degeneration. Sixteen weeks after intravitreal transplantation into adult mice, donor cells had incorporated into most layers of the retina, where they resembled retinal neurons in terms of morphology, location in the retina, and expression of cell type–specific marker proteins. Presence of these donor cells was correlated with a reduction in the sizes and numbers of lysosomal storage bodies in host retinal cells. The presence of transplanted donor cells was also accompanied by enhanced survival of host retinal neurons, particularly photoreceptors. These results demonstrate that neuralized ES cells protect host neurons from degeneration and appear to replace at least some types of lost neurons.
Embryonic stem cell; Retina; Transplantation; mnd mouse; Differentiation; Repair; Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinoses
Purpose. Transplantation of stem, progenitor, or precursor cells has resulted in photoreceptor replacement and evidence of functional efficacy in rodent models of retinal degeneration. Ongoing work has been directed toward the replication of these results in a large animal model, namely, the pig. Methods. Retinal progenitor cells were derived from the neural retina of GFP-transgenic pigs and transplanted to the subretinal space of rhodopsin Pro347Leu-transgenic allorecipients, in the early stage of the degeneration and the absence of immune suppression. Results. Results confirm the survival of allogeneic porcine RPCs without immune suppression in the setting of photoreceptor dystrophy. The expression of multiple photoreceptor markers by grafted cells included the rod outer segment-specific marker ROM-1. Further evidence of photoreceptor differentiation included the presence of numerous photoreceptor rosettes within GFP-positive grafts, indicative of the development of cellular polarity and self-assembly into rudiments of outer retinal tissue. Conclusion. Together, these data support the tolerance of RPCs as allografts and demonstrate the high level of rod photoreceptor development that can be obtained from cultured RPCs following transplantation. Strategies for further progress in this area, together with possible functional implications, are discussed.
Retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells play an important role in normal functioning of retina and photoreceptors, and some retinal degenerations arise due to malfunctioning RPE. Retinal pigment epithelium transplantation is being explored as a strategy to rescue degenerating photoreceptors in diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Additionally, RPE-secreted factors could rescue degenerating photoreceptors by prolonging survival or by their ability to differentiate and give rise to photoreceptors by transdifferentiation. In this study, we have explored what role cell density could play in differentiation induced in a human retinal progenitor cell line, in response to RPE-secreted growth factors. Retinal progenitors plated at low (1 × 104 cells/cm2), medium (2–4 × 104 cells/cm2), and high (1 × 105 cells/cm2) cell density were exposed to various dilutions of RPE-conditioned medium (secreted factors) under conditions of defined medium culture. Progenitor cell differentiation was monitored phenotypically (morphological, biochemical analysis, and immunophenotyping, and western blot analysis were performed). Our data show that differentiation in response to RPE-secreted factors is modulated by cell density and dilutions of conditioned medium. We conclude that before embarking on RPE transplantation as a modality for treatment of RP and AMD, one will have to determine the role that cell density and inhibitory and stimulatory neurotrophins secreted by RPE could play in the efficacy of survival of transplants. We report that RPE-conditioned medium enhances neuronal phenotype (photoreceptors, bipolars) at the lowest cell density in the absence of cell–cell contact. Eighty percent to 90% of progenitor cells differentiate into photoreceptors and bipolars at 50% concentration of conditioned medium, while exposure to 100% conditioned medium might increase multipolar neurons (ganglionic and amacrine phenotypes) to a small degree. However, no clear-cut pattern of differentiation in response to RPE-secreted factors is noted at higher cell densities.
Retinal progenitors; Retinal pigment epithelium; Secreted factors; Differentiation; Density
The lens influences retinal growth and differentiation during vertebrate eye development but the mechanisms are not understood. The role of the lens in retinal growth and development was studied in the teleost Astyanax mexicanus, which has eyed surface-dwelling (surface fish) and blind cave-dwelling (cavefish) forms. A lens and laminated retina initially develop in cavefish embryos, but the lens dies by apoptosis. The cavefish retina is subsequently disorganized, apoptotic cells appear, the photoreceptor layer degenerates, and retinal growth is arrested. We show here by PCNA, BrdU and TUNEL labeling that cell proliferation continues in the adult cavefish retina but the newly born cells are removed by apoptosis. Surface fish to cavefish lens transplantation, which restores retinal growth and rod cell differentiation, abolished apoptosis in the retina but not in the RPE. Surface fish lens deletion did not cause apoptosis in the surface fish retina or affect RPE differentiation. Neither lens transplantation in cavefish nor lens deletion in surface fish affected retinal cell proliferation. We conclude that the lens acts in concert with another optic component, possibly the RPE, to promote retinal cell survival. Accordingly, deficiency in both optic structures may lead to eye degeneration in cavefish.
retina; lens; retinal pigment epithelium; eye growth; eye degeneration; apoptosis; cavefish
Blindness from retinal disease is often the consequence of extensive damage to the photoreceptor cell population, while other cell types which form the neural retina are relatively spared. In this setting, transplantation of photoreceptor cells could offer hope for the restoration of some degree of visual function. We testd the feasibility of this approach by transplanting immature retinal cells into the eyes of adult rats affected by late stage phototoxic retinopathy, which are almost totally devoid of photoreceptor cells.
Dissociated neuroretinal cells from newborn rats were injected into the hosts' retinas. These cells were labelled with the fluorescent tracer Fast-blue for identification within the host eye. Survival time ranged from 3 to 100 post-transplantation days.
Fundus examination of light-irradiated eyes showed pallor caused by a considerable reduction of the retino-choroidal vascular bed after light irradiation. Histologically the hosts exhibited decimation of the elements forming the outer layers.throughout the entire retina.
As visualized by light and electron microscopic procedures, we report the differentiation of clusters of transplanted photoreceptor cells, and the integration of these cells within the adjacent areas of the host retina.
Fluorescence microscopy showed these clusters to be formed by fluorescently labelled cells developing in intimate contact with the unlabelled host retina. Electron microscopically it was possible to determine that these photoreceptors had established synaptic contacts. These observations indicate that successful transplantation of immature retinal cells is feasible into adult eyes that have suffered extensive retino-choroidal damage. These findings also support the concept that retinal transplantation is a procedure which may open new avenues into the study of retinal repair.
This review covers intraocular transplantation of
retinal tissue. This has importance both for
theoretical understanding of retinal and neural
development and for possible future clinical
Transplantation sites have ranged from the
anterior chamber through the retina to the subretinal
Transplanted tissue has ranged from whole
retina to specific retinal layers or specific types of
retinal cells. Both within-species and inter-species
transplants have been performed, and donor age has
ranged from embryonic to adult. The ability of
transplanted tissue to be accepted and to differentiate
in host eyes has been studied. The conditions under
which successful transplants are obtained, host-graft
interactions, and transplantation methodologies have
been explored. Morphological, and to a small extent,
also functional characteristics of the transplants have
Survival of integrated cells decreases with time after transplantation but can be significantly increased with XIAP antiapoptotic therapy. Preventing programmed cell death through XIAP therapy may be an important component of future therapeutic retinal cell transplantation strategies.
To assess the survival of rod precursor cells transplanted into the Rd9 mouse, a model of X-linked retinal degeneration, and the effect of antiapoptotic therapy with X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis (XIAP) on preventing cell loss.
Dissociated retinal cells from P4 Nrlp-GFP mice were transplanted into the subretinal space of 2-, 5-, and 8-month-old Rd9 mice. Histology, immunohistochemistry, and quantification of integrated cells were performed every month for up to 3 months after transplantation. XIAP delivery to donor cells was accomplished by transfection with adenoassociated virus (AAV-XIAP). Intraretinal activation of immune modulators was assessed using a quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction-based immune response array.
GFP-positive rod precursors were able to integrate into the outer nuclear layer (ONL) of the Rd9 retina. Transplanted cells underwent morphologic differentiation with the formation of inner and outer segments and synaptic projections to bipolar cells. Integration of donor cells into the ONL increased as a function of host age at the time of transplantation. The number of integrated cells was maximal at 1 month after transplantation and then decreased with time. Survival of integrated cells was significantly increased when donor cells were pretreated with AAV-XIAP. We did not detect any donor cell-specific activation of inflammation within the host retina.
Survival of integrated cells decreases with time after transplantation but can be significantly increased with XIAP antiapoptotic therapy. Preventing programmed cell death through XIAP therapy may be an important component of future therapeutic retinal cell transplantation strategies.
Stem cell therapy presents an opportunity to replace photoreceptors that are lost as a result of inherited and age-related degenerative disease. We have previously shown that murine postmitotic rod photoreceptor precursor cells, identified by expression of the rod-specific transcription factor Nrl, are able to migrate into and integrate within the adult murine neural retina. However, their long-term survival has yet to be determined. Here, we found that integrated Nrl.gfp+ve photoreceptors were present up to 12 months post-transplantation, albeit in significantly reduced numbers. Surviving cells had rod-like morphology, including inner/outer segments and spherule synapses. In a minority of eyes, we observed an early, marked reduction in integrated photoreceptors within 1 month post-transplantation, which correlated with increased numbers of amoeboid macrophages, indicating acute loss of transplanted cells due to an inflammatory response. In the majority of transplants, similar numbers of integrated cells were observed between 1 and 2 months post-transplantation. By 4 months, however, we observed a significant decrease in integrated cell survival. Macrophages and T cells were present around the transplantation site, indicating a chronic immune response. Immune suppression of recipients significantly increased transplanted photoreceptor survival, indicating that the loss observed in unsuppressed recipients resulted from T cell-mediated host immune responses. Thus, if immune responses are modulated, correctly integrated transplanted photoreceptors can survive for extended periods of time in hosts with partially mismatched H-2 haplotypes. These findings suggest that autologous donor cells are optimal for therapeutic approaches to repair the neural retina, though with immune suppression nonautologous donors may be effective.
Stem cell; Progenitor cell; Photoreceptor; Retina; Cell transplantation; Immune response
To characterize the potential of newborn retinal stem cells (RSCs) isolated from the radial glia population to integrate the retina, this study was conducted to investigate the fate of in vitro expanded RSCs transplanted into retinas devoid of photoreceptors (adult rd1 and old VPP mice and rhodopsin-mutated transgenic mice) or partially degenerated retina (adult VPP mice) retinas.
Populations of RSCs and progenitor cells were isolated either from DBA2J newborn mice and labeled with the red lipophilic fluorescent dye (PKH26) or from GFP (green fluorescent protein) transgenic mice. After expansion in EGF+FGF2 (epidermal growth factor+fibroblast growth factor), cells were transplanted intravitreally or subretinally into the eyes of adult wild-type, transgenic mice undergoing slow (VPP strain) or rapid (rd1 strain) retinal degeneration.
Only limited migration and differentiation of the cells were observed in normal mice injected subretinally or in VPP and rd1 mice injected intravitreally. After subretinal injection in old VPP mice, transplanted cells massively migrated into the ganglion cell layer and, at 1 and 4 weeks after injection, harbored neuronal and glial markers expressed locally, such as β-tubulin-III, NeuN, Brn3b, or glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), with a marked preference for the glial phenotype. In adult VPP retinas, the grafted cells behaved similarly. Few grafted cells stayed in the degenerating outer nuclear layer (ONL). These cells were, in rare cases, positive for rhodopsin or recoverin, markers specific for photoreceptors and some bipolar cells.
These results show that the grafted cells preferentially integrate into the GCL and IPL and express ganglion cell or glial markers, thus exhibiting migratory and differentiation preferences when injected subretinally. It also appears that the retina, whether partially degenerated or already degenerated, does not provide signals to induce massive differentiation of RSCs into photoreceptors. This observation suggests that a predifferentiation of RSCs into photoreceptors before transplantation may be necessary to obtain graft integration in the ONL.
Retinal degeneration due to genetic, diabetic and age-related disease is the most common cause of blindness in the developed world. Blindness occurs through the loss of the light-sensing photoreceptors; to restore vision, it would be necessary to introduce alternative photosensitive components into the eye. The recent development of an electronic prosthesis placed beneath the severely diseased retina has shown that subretinal stimulation may restore some visual function in blind patients. This proves that residual retinal circuits can be reawakened after photoreceptor loss and defines a goal for stem-cell-based therapy to replace photoreceptors. Advances in reprogramming adult cells have shown how it may be possible to generate autologous stem cells for transplantation without the need for an embryo donor. The recent success in culturing a whole optic cup in vitro has shown how large numbers of photoreceptors might be generated from embryonic stem cells. Taken together, these threads of discovery provide the basis for optimism for the development of a stem-cell-based strategy for the treatment of retinal blindness.
age-related macular degeneration; retinitis pigmentosa; retinal degeneration; embryonic stem cell; induced pluripotent stem cell; transplantation
Retinal degeneration resulting in the loss of photoreceptors is the leading cause of blindness. Several therapeutic protocols are under consideration for treatment of this disease. Tissue replacement is one such strategy currently being explored. However, availability of tissues for transplant poses a major obstacle. Another strategy with great potential is the use of adult stem cells, which could be expanded in culture and then utilized to engineer retinal tissue. In this study, we have explored a spontaneously immortalized human retinal progenitor cell line for its potential in retinal engineering using rotary cultures to generate three-dimensional (3D) structures. Retinal progenitors cultured alone or cocultured with retinal pigment epithelial cells form aggregates. The aggregate size increases between days 1 and 10. The cells grown as a 3D culture rotary system, which promotes cell–cell interaction, retain a spectrum of differentiation capability. Photoreceptor differentiation in these cultures is confirmed by significant upregulation of rhodopsin and AaNat, an enzyme implicated in melatonin synthesis (immunohistochemistry and Western blot analysis). Photoreceptor induction and differentiation is further attested to by the upregulation of rod transcription factor Nrl, Nr2e3, expression of interstitial retinal binding protein, and rhodopsin kinase by reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction. Differentiation toward other cell lineages is confirmed by the expression of tyrosine hydroxylase in amacrine cells, thy 1.1 expression in ganglion cells and calbindin, and GNB3 expression in cone cells. The capability of retinal progenitors to give rise to several retinal cell types when grown as aggregated cells in rotary culture offers hope that progenitor stem cells under appropriate culture conditions will be valuable to engineer retinal constructs, which could be further tested for their transplant potential. The fidelity with which this multipotential cell line retains its capacity to differentiate into multiple cell types holds great promise for the use of tissue-specific adult stem cells for therapy.
Retinal degenerations, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and retinitis pigmentosa (RP), are characterized by photoreceptor loss and anomalous remodeling of the surviving retina that corrupts visual processing and poses a barrier to late-stage therapeutic interventions in particular. However, the molecular events associated with retinal remodeling remain largely unknown. Given our prior evidence of ionotropic glutamate receptor (iGluR) reprogramming in retinal degenerations, we hypothesized that the edited glutamate receptor 2 (GluR2) subunit and its trafficking may be modulated in retinal degenerations.
Adult albino Balb/C mice were exposed to intense light for 24 h to induce light-induced retinal degeneration (LIRD). We found that prior to the onset of photoreceptor loss, protein levels of GluR2 and related trafficking proteins, including glutamate receptor-interacting protein 1 (GRIP1) and postsynaptic density protein 95 (PSD-95), were rapidly increased. LIRD triggered neuritogenesis in photoreceptor survival regions, where GluR2 and its trafficking proteins were expressed in the anomalous dendrites. Immunoprecipitation analysis showed interaction between KIF3A and GRIP1 as well as PSD-95, suggesting that KIF3A may mediate transport of GluR2 and its trafficking proteins to the novel dendrites. However, in areas of photoreceptor loss, GluR2 along with its trafficking proteins nearly vanished in retracted retinal neurites.
All together, LIRD rapidly triggers GluR2 plasticity, which is a potential mechanism behind functionally phenotypic revisions of retinal neurons and neuritogenesis during retinal degenerations.
glutamate receptor 2; retinal degeneration; retinal remodeling; neuritogenesis
Neuronal degenerations in the retina are leading causes of blindness. Like most other areas of the CNS, the neurons of the mammalian retina are not replaced following degeneration. However, in non-mammalian vertebrates, endogenous repair processes restore neurons very efficiently, even after complete loss of the retina. We describe the phenomenon of retinal regeneration in non-mammalian vertebrates and attempts made in recent years to stimulate similar regenerative processes in the mammalian retina. In addition, we review the various strategies employed to replace lost neurons in the retina and the recent use of stem cell technologies to address problems of retinal repair.
The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is an specialized epithelium lying in the interface between the neural retina and the choriocapillaris where it forms the outer blood-retinal barrier (BRB). The main functions of the RPE are the following: (1) transport of nutrients, ions, and water, (2) absorption of light and protection against photooxidation, (3) reisomerization of all-trans-retinal into 11-cis-retinal, which is crucial for the visual cycle, (4) phagocytosis of shed photoreceptor membranes, and (5) secretion of essential factors for the structural integrity of the retina. An overview of these functions will be given. Most of the research on the physiopathology of diabetic retinopathy has been focused on the impairment of the neuroretina and the breakdown of the inner BRB. By contrast, the effects of diabetes on the RPE and in particular on its secretory activity have received less attention. In this regard, new therapeutic strategies addressed to modulating RPE impairment are warranted.
The death of photoreceptor cells caused by retinal degenerative diseases often results in a complete loss of retinal responses to light. We explore the feasibility of converting inner retinal neurons to photosensitive cells as a possible strategy for imparting light sensitivity to retinas lacking rods and cones. Using delivery by an adeno-associated viral vector, here, we show that long-term expression of a microbial-type rhodopsin, channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2), can be achieved in rodent inner retinal neurons in vivo. Furthermore, we demonstrate that expression of ChR2 in surviving inner retinal neurons of a mouse with photoreceptor degeneration can restore the ability of the retina to encode light signals and transmit the light signals to the visual cortex. Thus, expression of microbial-type channelrhodopsins, such as ChR2, in surviving inner retinal neurons is a potential strategy for the restoration of vision after rod and cone degeneration.
Regenerative medicine intends to provide therapies for severe injuries or chronic diseases where endogenous repair does not sufficiently restore the tissue. Pluripotent stem cells (SC), with their capacity to give rise to specialized cells, are the most promising candidates for clinical application. Despite encouraging results, a combination with up-to-date tissue engineering might be critical for ultimate success.
The focus is on the use of SC for regeneration of retinal degenerations. Cell populations include embryonic, neural, and bone marrow-derived SC and engineered grafts will also be described.
Experimental approaches have successfully replaced damaged photoreceptors and retinal pigment epithelium using endogenous and exogenous SC.
SC have the potential to significantly impact retinal regeneration. A combination with bioengineering may bear even greater promise. However, ethical and scientific issues have yet to be solved.
regenerative therapy; retinal degeneration; stem cells; retinitis pigmentosa; macular degeneration
Transplantation of photoreceptor precursor cells (PPCs) into the retina represents a promising treatment for cell replacement in blinding diseases characterized by photoreceptor loss. In preclinical studies, we and others demonstrated that grafted PPCs integrate into the host outer nuclear layer (ONL) and develop into mature photoreceptors. However, a key feature of light detecting photoreceptors, the outer segment (OS) with natively aligned disc membrane staples, has not been studied in detail following transplantation. Therefore, we used as donor cells PPCs isolated from neonatal double transgenic reporter mice in which OSs are selectively labeled by green fluorescent protein while cell bodies are highlighted by red fluorescent protein. PPCs were enriched using CD73-based magnetic associated cell sorting and subsequently transplanted into either adult wild-type or a model of autosomal-dominant retinal degeneration mice. Three weeks post-transplantation, donor photoreceptors were identified based on fluorescent-reporter expression and OS formation was monitored at light and electron microscopy levels. Donor cells that properly integrated into the host wild-type retina developed OSs with the formation of a connecting cilium and well-aligned disc membrane staples similar to the surrounding native cells of the host. Surprisingly, the majority of not-integrated PPCs that remained in the sub-retinal space also generated native-like OSs in wild-type mice and those affected by retinal degeneration. Moreover, they showed an improved photoreceptor maturation and OS formation by comparison to donor cells located on the vitreous side suggesting that environmental cues influence the PPC differentiation and maturation. We conclude that transplanted PPCs, whether integrated or not into the host ONL, are able to generate the cellular structure for effective light detection, a phenomenon observed in wild-type as well as in degenerated retinas. Given that patients suffering from retinitis pigmentosa lose almost all photoreceptors, our findings are of utmost importance for the development of cell-based therapies.