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1.  AAV-Mediated, Optogenetic Ablation of Müller Glia Leads to Structural and Functional Changes in the Mouse Retina 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e76075.
Müller glia, the primary glial cell in the retina, provide structural and metabolic support for neurons and are essential for retinal integrity. Müller cells are closely involved in many retinal degenerative diseases, including macular telangiectasia type 2, in which impairment of central vision may be linked to a primary defect in Müller glia. Here, we used an engineered, Müller-specific variant of AAV, called ShH10, to deliver a photo-inducibly toxic protein, KillerRed, to Müller cells in the mouse retina. We characterized the results of specific ablation of these cells on visual function and retinal structure. ShH10-KillerRed expression was obtained following intravitreal injection and eyes were then irradiated with green light to induce toxicity. Induction of KillerRed led to loss of Müller cells and a concomitant decrease of Müller cell markers glutamine synthetase and cellular retinaldehyde-binding protein, reduction of rhodopsin and cone opsin, and upregulation of glial fibrillary acidic protein. Loss of Müller cells also resulted in retinal disorganization, including thinning of the outer nuclear layer and the photoreceptor inner and outer segments. High resolution imaging of thin sections revealed displacement of photoreceptors from the ONL, formation of rosette-like structures and the presence of phagocytic cells. Furthermore, Müller cell ablation resulted in increased area and volume of retinal blood vessels, as well as the formation of tortuous blood vessels and vascular leakage. Electrophysiologic measures demonstrated reduced retinal function, evident in decreased photopic and scotopic electroretinogram amplitudes. These results show that loss of Müller cells can cause progressive retinal degenerative disease, and suggest that AAV delivery of an inducibly toxic protein in Müller cells may be useful to create large animal models of retinal dystrophies.
PMCID: PMC3785414  PMID: 24086689
2.  Colocalization of HCN Channel Subunits in Rat Retinal Ganglion Cells 
The Journal of Comparative Neurology  2011;519(13):2546-2573.
The current-passing pore of mammalian hyperpolarization-activated, cyclic nucleotide-gated ("HCN") channels is formed by subunit isoforms denoted HCN1-4. In various brain areas, antibodies directed against multiple isoforms bind to single neurons and the current ("Ih") passed during hyperpolarizations differs from that of heterologously expressed homomeric channels. By contrast, retinal rod, cone, and bipolar cells appear to use homomeric HCN channels. Here, we assess the generality of this pattern by examining HCN1 and HCN4 immunoreactivity in rat retinal ganglion cells, measuring Ih in dissociated cells, and testing whether HCN1 and HCN4 protein coimmunoprecipitate. Nearly half of the ganglion cells in whole-mounted retinae bound antibodies against both isoforms. Consistent with colocalization and physical association, 8-bromo-cAMP shifted the voltage-sensitivity of Ih less than that of HCN4 channels and more than that of HCN1 channels, and HCN1 coimmunoprecipitated with HCN4 from membrane fraction proteins. Lastly, the immunopositive somata ranged in diameter from the smallest to the largest in rat retina, the dendrites of immunopositive cells arborized at various levels of the inner plexiform layer and over fields of different diameters, and Ih activated with similar kinetics and proportions of fast and slow components in small, medium, and large somata. These results show that different HCN subunits colocalize in single retinal ganglion cells, identify a subunit that can reconcile native Ih properties with the previously reported presence of HCN4 in these cells, and indicate that Ih is biophysically similar in morphologically diverse retinal ganglion cells and differs from Ih in rods, cones, and bipolar cells.
PMCID: PMC3287082  PMID: 21456027
HCN; inward rectification; immunohistochemistry; immunoprecipitation; retina
3.  Intravitreal Injection of AAV2 Transduces Macaque Inner Retina 
Intravitreally injected AAV2 transduced inner retinal cells in a restricted region at the macaque fovea. Because macaque and human eyes are similar, the results suggest a need to improve transduction methods in gene therapy for the human inner retina.
Adeno-associated virus serotype 2 (AAV2) has been shown to be effective in transducing inner retinal neurons after intravitreal injection in several species. However, results in nonprimates may not be predictive of transduction in the human inner retina, because of differences in eye size and the specialized morphology of the high-acuity human fovea. This was a study of inner retina transduction in the macaque, a primate with ocular characteristics most similar to that of humans.
In vivo imaging and histology were used to examine GFP expression in the macaque inner retina after intravitreal injection of AAV vectors containing five distinct promoters.
AAV2 produced pronounced GFP expression in inner retinal cells of the fovea, no expression in the central retina beyond the fovea, and variable expression in the peripheral retina. AAV2 vector incorporating the neuronal promoter human connexin 36 (hCx36) transduced ganglion cells within a dense annulus around the fovea center, whereas AAV2 containing the ubiquitous promoter hybrid cytomegalovirus (CMV) enhancer/chicken-β-actin (CBA) transduced both Müller and ganglion cells in a dense circular disc centered on the fovea. With three shorter promoters—human synapsin (hSYN) and the shortened CBA and hCx36 promoters (smCBA and hCx36sh)—AAV2 produced visible transduction, as seen in fundus images, only when the retina was altered by ganglion cell loss or enzymatic vitreolysis.
The results in the macaque suggest that intravitreal injection of AAV2 would produce high levels of gene expression at the human fovea, important in retinal gene therapy, but not in the central retina beyond the fovea.
PMCID: PMC3088562  PMID: 21310920
4.  In vivo imaging of microscopic structures in the rat retina 
The ability to resolve single retinal cells in rodents in vivo has applications in rodent models of the visual system and retinal disease. We have characterized the performance of a fluorescence adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscope (fAOSLO) that provides cellular and subcellular imaging of rat retina in vivo.
Green fluorescent protein (eGFP) was expressed in retinal ganglion cells of normal Sprague Dawley rats via intravitreal injections of adeno-associated viral vectors. Simultaneous reflectance and fluorescence retinal images were acquired using the fAOSLO. fAOSLO resolution was characterized by comparing in vivo images with subsequent imaging of retinal sections from the same eyes using confocal microscopy.
Retinal capillaries and eGFP-labeled ganglion cell bodies, dendrites, and axons were clearly resolved in vivo with adaptive optics (AO). AO correction reduced the total root mean square wavefront error, on average, from 0.30 μm to 0.05 μm (1.7-mm pupil). The full width at half maximum (FWHM) of the average in vivo line-spread function (LSF) was ∼1.84 μm, approximately 82% greater than the FWHM of the diffraction-limited LSF.
With perfect aberration compensation, the in vivo resolution in the rat eye could be ∼2× greater than that in the human eye due to its large numerical aperture (∼0.43). While the fAOSLO corrects a substantial fraction of the rat eye's aberrations, direct measurements of retinal image quality reveal some blur beyond that expected from diffraction. Nonetheless, subcellular features can be resolved, offering promise for using AO to investigate the rodent eye in vivo with high resolution.
PMCID: PMC2873188  PMID: 19578019
5.  Müller cell activation, proliferation and migration following laser injury 
Molecular Vision  2009;15:1886-1896.
Müller cells are well known for their critical role in normal retinal structure and function, but their reaction to retinal injury and subsequent role in retinal remodeling is less well characterized. In this study we used a mouse model of retinal laser photocoagulation to examine injury-induced Müller glial reaction, and determine how this reaction was related to injury-induced retinal regeneration and cellular repopulation.
Experiments were performed on 3–4-week-old C57BL/6 mice. Retinal laser photocoagulation was used to induce small, circumscribed injuries; these were principally confined to the outer nuclear layer, and surrounded by apparently healthy retinal tissue. Western blotting and immunohistochemical analyses were used to determine the level and location of protein expression. Live cell imaging of green fluorescent protein (GFP)-infected Müller cells (AAV-GFAP-GFP) were used to identify the rate and location of retinal Müller cell nuclear migration.
Upon injury, Müller cells directly at the burn site become reactive, as evidenced by increased expression of the intermediate filament proteins glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and nestin. These reactive cells re-enter the cell cycle as shown by expression of the markers Cyclin D1 and D3, and their nuclei begin to migrate toward the injury site at a rate of approximately 12 μm/hr. However, unlike other reports, evidence for Müller cell transdifferentiation was not identified in this model.
Retinal laser photocoagulation is capable of stimulating a significant glial reaction, marked by activation of cell cycle progression and retinal reorganization, but is not capable of stimulating cellular transdifferentiation or neurogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2746266  PMID: 19768129
6.  Targeted Transgene Expression in Müller Glia of Normal and Diseased Retinas Using Lentiviral Vectors 
Müller glia play crucial roles in retinal homeostasis and function. Genetic modification of Müller cells by viral gene delivery would be valuable for studies of their normal physiology and roles in retinal disease states. However, stable and efficient transgene expression in Müller cells after delivery of gene transfer vectors has remained elusive. Transcriptional and transductional targeting approaches were used to engineer recombinant HIV-1-based lentiviral (LV) vectors capable of highly efficient and sustained Müller cell transgene expression in healthy and diseased rodent retinas.
Expression cassettes containing glia-specific promoters (CD44, glial fibrillary acidic protein, and vimentin) and an enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) cDNA were cloned into LV backbones, which were packaged into infectious vector particles displaying either the vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) or Ross River virus (RRV) envelope surface glycoproteins. Vectors were injected by intravitreal and subretinal approaches in wild type Sprague-Dawley (SD) and retinal degenerate S334Ter+/− transgenic rats aged 1 to 180 days. In vivo fluorescent fundus imaging and immunofluorescent confocal microscopy were used for comparison of expression efficiency, cell type specificity, and temporal expression characteristics.
The choice of viral pseudotype, regulatory promoter, and surgical delivery site each had a measurable effect on the level of eGFP transgene expression in Müller cells. The highest expression levels in SD retinas were attained with subretinal injection of VSV-G pseudotyped LV vectors containing the CD44 promoter. With these vectors, persistent eGFP expression in Müller glia was observed for more than 6 months, covering 25% to 30% of the retinal surface area after a single subretinal injection. Immunohistochemistry (α-glutamine synthetase) revealed that approximately 95% of the Müller cells were transduced in the region near the injection site. Delivery of these viral vectors and subsequent Müller cell eGFP expression had no negative impact on visual function, as assessed by electroretinography (ERG).
Pseudotyped LV vectors containing glia-specific promoters efficiently transduce and direct sustained transgene expression in retinal Müller glia. Vectors of this type will be useful for experimental treatment of retinal disease, as well as for physiological and developmental investigations of the retina.
PMCID: PMC1939809  PMID: 17389520
7.  Functional promoter testing using a modified lentiviral transfer vector 
Molecular Vision  2007;13:730-739.
The importance of retinal glial cells in the maintenance of retinal health and in retinal degenerations has not been fully explored. Several groups have suggested that secretion of neurotrophic proteins from the retina's primary glial cell type, the Müller cell, holds promise for treating retinal degenerations. Tight regulation of transgene expression in Müller cells is likely to be critical to the efficacy of long-term neuroprotective therapies, due to the genetic heterogeneity and progressive nature of retinal disease. To this end, we developed a modified lentiviral (LV) transfer vector (pFTMGW) to accelerate the testing and evaluation of novel transcriptional regulatory elements. This vector facilitates identification and characterization of regulatory elements in terms of size, cell specificity and ability to control transgene expression levels.
A synthetic multiple cloning site (MCS) which can accept up to five directionally cloned DNA regulatory elements was inserted immediately upstream of an enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) reporter. A cytomegalovirus (CMV) promoter, required for tat-independent viral packaging, is located around 2 kb upstream of the eGFP reporter and is capable of directing transgene expression. A synthetic transcription blocker (TB) was inserted to insulate the MCS/eGFP from the CMV promoter. We evaluated eGFP expression from pFTMGW and control constructs using flow cytometry and quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). We also tested and compared the activity and cell specificity of a computationally identified promoter fragment from the rat vimentin gene (Vim409) in transfection and lentiviral infection experiments using fluorescence microscopy.
Transfection data, quantitative RT-PCR, and flow cytometry show that around 85% of expression from the CMV promoter was blocked by the TB element, allowing direct evaluation of expression from the Vim409 candidate promoter cloned into the MCS. Lentiviruses generated from this construct containing the Vim409 promoter (without the TB element) drove robust eGFP expression in Müller cells in vitro and in vivo.
The TB element efficiently prevented eGFP expression by the upstream CMV promoter and the novel MCS facilitated testing of an evolutionarily conserved regulatory element. Additional sites allow for combinatorial testing of additional promoter, enhancer, and/or repressor elements in various configurations. This modified LV transfer vector is an effective tool for expediting functional analysis of gene regulatory elements in Müller glia, and should prove useful for promoter analyses in other cell types and tissues.
PMCID: PMC2765473  PMID: 17563724

Results 1-7 (7)