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1.  The erythropoietin receptor is not required for the development, function, and aging of rods and cells in the retinal periphery 
Molecular Vision  2014;20:307-324.
Purpose
Erythropoietin (EPO) was originally described for its antiapoptotic effects on erythroid progenitor cells in bone marrow. In recent years, however, EPO has also been shown to be cytoprotective in several tissues, including the retina. There, exogenous application of EPO was reported to exert neuro- and vasoprotection in several models of retinal injury. EPO and the erythropoietin receptor (EPOR) are expressed in the retina, but the role of endogenous EPO-EPOR signaling in this tissue remains elusive. Here, we investigated the consequences for cell physiology and survival when EpoR is ablated in rod photoreceptors or in the peripheral retina.
Methods
Two mouse lines were generated harboring a cyclization recombinase (CRE)-mediated knockdown of EpoR in rod photoreceptors (EpoRflox/flox;Opn-Cre) or in a heterogeneous cell population of the retinal periphery (EpoRflox/flox;α-Cre). The function of the retina was measured with electroretinography. Retinal morphology was analyzed in tissue sections. The vasculature of the retina was investigated on flatmount preparations, cryosections, and fluorescein angiography. Retinal nuclear layers were isolated by laser capture microdissection to test for EpoR expression. Gene expression analysis was performed with semiquantitative real-time PCR. To test if the absence of EPOR potentially increases retinal susceptibility to hypoxic stress, the knockdown mice were exposed to hypoxia.
Results
Newborn mice had lower retinal expression levels of EpoR and soluble EpoR (sEpoR) than the adult wild-type mice. In the adult mice, the EpoR transcripts were elevated in the inner retinal layers, while expression in the photoreceptors was low. CRE-mediated deletion in the EpoRflox/flox;Opn-Cre mice led to a decrease in EpoR mRNA expression in the outer nuclear layer. A significant decrease in EpoR expression was measured in the retina of the EpoRflox/flox;α-Cre mice, accompanied by a strong and significant decrease in sEpoR expression. Analysis of the retinal morphology in the two knockdown lines did not reveal any developmental defects or signs of accelerated degeneration in the senescent tissue. Similarly, retinal function was not altered under scotopic and photopic conditions. In addition, EpoR knockdown had no influence on cell viability under acute hypoxic conditions. Retinal angiogenesis and vasculature were normal in the absence of EPOR. However, expression of some EPOR-signaling target genes was significantly altered in the retinas of the EpoRflox/flox;α-Cre mice.
Conclusions
Our data suggest that expression of EPOR in rod photoreceptors, Müller cells, and amacrine, horizontal, and ganglion cells of the peripheral retina is not required for the maturation, function, and survival of these cells in aging tissue. Based on the expression of the EPOR-signaling target genes, we postulate that expression of soluble EPOR in the retina may modulate endogenous EPO-EPOR signaling.
PMCID: PMC3955415  PMID: 24644405
2.  CDC42 Is Required for Tissue Lamination and Cell Survival in the Mouse Retina 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e53806.
The small GTPase CDC42 has pleiotropic functions during development and in the adult. These functions include intra- as well as intercellular tasks such as organization of the cytoskeleton and, at least in epithelial cells, formation of adherens junctions. To investigate CDC42 in the neuronal retina, we generated retina-specific Cdc42-knockdown mice (Cdc42-KD) and analyzed the ensuing consequences for the developing and postnatal retina. Lack of CDC42 affected organization of the developing retina as early as E17.5, prevented correct tissue lamination, and resulted in progressive retinal degeneration and severely reduced retinal function of the postnatal retina. Despite the disorganization of the retina, formation of the primary vascular plexus was not strongly affected. However, both deeper vascular plexi developed abnormally with no clear layering of the vessels. Retinas of Cdc42-KD mice showed increased expression of pro-survival, but also of pro-apoptotic and pro-inflammatory genes and exhibited prolonged Müller glia hypertrophy. Thus, functional CDC42 is important for correct tissue organization already during retinal development. Its absence leads to severe destabilization of the postnatal retina with strong degeneration and loss of retinal function.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053806
PMCID: PMC3553133  PMID: 23372671
3.  PGC-1α Determines Light Damage Susceptibility of the Murine Retina 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31272.
The peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ coactivator 1 (PGC-1) proteins are key regulators of cellular bioenergetics and are accordingly expressed in tissues with a high energetic demand. For example, PGC-1α and PGC-1β control organ function of brown adipose tissue, heart, brain, liver and skeletal muscle. Surprisingly, despite their prominent role in the control of mitochondrial biogenesis and oxidative metabolism, expression and function of the PGC-1 coactivators in the retina, an organ with one of the highest energy demands per tissue weight, are completely unknown. Moreover, the molecular mechanisms that coordinate energy production with repair processes in the damaged retina remain enigmatic. In the present study, we thus investigated the expression and function of the PGC-1 coactivators in the healthy and the damaged retina. We show that PGC-1α and PGC-1β are found at high levels in different structures of the mouse retina, most prominently in the photoreceptors. Furthermore, PGC-1α knockout mice suffer from a striking deterioration in retinal morphology and function upon detrimental light exposure. Gene expression studies revealed dysregulation of all major pathways involved in retinal damage and apoptosis, repair and renewal in the PGC-1α knockouts. The light-induced increase in apoptosis in vivo in the absence of PGC-1α was substantiated in vitro, where overexpression of PGC-1α evoked strong anti-apoptotic effects. Finally, we found that retinal levels of PGC-1 expression are reduced in different mouse models for retinitis pigmentosa. We demonstrate that PGC-1α is a central coordinator of energy production and, importantly, all of the major processes involved in retinal damage and subsequent repair. Together with the observed dysregulation of PGC-1α and PGC-1β in retinitis pigmentosa mouse models, these findings thus imply that PGC-1α might be an attractive target for therapeutic approaches aimed at retinal degeneration diseases.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031272
PMCID: PMC3278422  PMID: 22348062
4.  Gene Therapy Regenerates Protein Expression in Cone Photoreceptors in Rpe65R91W/R91W Mice 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(2):e16588.
Cone photoreceptors mediate visual acuity under daylight conditions, so loss of cone-mediated central vision of course dramatically affects the quality of life of patients suffering from retinal degeneration. Therefore, promoting cone survival has become the goal of many ocular therapies and defining the stage of degeneration that still allows cell rescue is of prime importance. Using the Rpe65R91W/R91W mouse, which carries a mutation in the Rpe65 gene leading to progressive photoreceptor degeneration in both patients and mice, we defined stages of retinal degeneration that still allow cone rescue. We evaluated the therapeutic window within which cones can be rescued, using a subretinal injection of a lentiviral vector driving expression of RPE65 in the Rpe65R91W/R91W mice. Surprisingly, when applied to adult mice (1 month) this treatment not only stalls or slows cone degeneration but, actually, induces cone-specific protein expression that was previously absent. Before the intervention only part of the cones (40% of the number found in wild-type animals) in the Rpe65R91W/R91W mice expressed cone transducin (GNAT2); this fraction increased to 64% after treatment. Correct S-opsin localization is also recovered in the transduced region. In consequence these results represent an extended therapeutic window compared to the Rpe65-/- mice, implying that patients suffering from missense mutations might also benefit from a prolonged therapeutic window. Moreover, cones are not only rescued during the course of the degeneration, but can actually recover their initial status, meaning that a proportion of altered cones in chromophore deficiency-related disease can be rehabilitated even though they are severely affected.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016588
PMCID: PMC3033393  PMID: 21304899
5.  Constitutive Overexpression of Human Erythropoietin Protects the Mouse Retina against Induced But Not Inherited Retinal Degeneration 
Elevation of erythropoietin (Epo) concentrations by hypoxic preconditioning or application of recombinant human Epo (huEpo) protects the mouse retina against light-induced degeneration by inhibiting photoreceptor cell apoptosis. Because photoreceptor apoptosis is also the common path to cell loss in retinal dystrophies such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP), we tested whether high levels of huEpo would reduce apoptotic cell death in two mouse models of human RP. We combined the two respective mutant mouse lines with a transgenic line (tg6) that constitutively overexpresses huEpo mainly in neural tissues. Transgenic expression of huEpo caused constitutively high levels of Epo in the retina and protected photoreceptors against light-induced degeneration; however, the presence of high levels of huEpo did not affect the course or the extent of retinal degeneration in a light-independent (rd1) and a light-accelerated (VPP) mouse model of RP. Similarly, repetitive intraperitoneal injections of recombinant huEpo did not protect the retina in the rd1 and the VPP mouse. Lack of neuroprotection by Epo in the two models of inherited retinal degeneration was not caused by adaptational downregulation of Epo receptor. Our results suggest that apoptotic mechanisms during acute, light-induced photoreceptor cell death differ from those in genetically based retinal degeneration. Therapeutic intervention with cell death in inherited retinal degeneration may therefore require different drugs and treatments.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1288-04.2004
PMCID: PMC2929919  PMID: 15215287
retinal degeneration; erythropoietin; apoptosis; neuroprotection; photoreceptor; transgene
6.  Endogenous leukemia inhibitory factor protects photoreceptor cells against light-induced degeneration 
Molecular Vision  2009;15:1631-1637.
Purpose
Expression of leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) by a subset of Müller glia cells has recently been implicated in an endogenous survival response to photoreceptor injury in a model of inherited retinal degeneration. To investigate whether such a LIF-controlled survival pathway might be commonly induced upon photoreceptor injury independently of the nature of the toxic stimulus, we analyzed the role of LIF during light-induced retinal degeneration.
Methods
Lif+/– and Lif–/– mice were exposed to 15,000 lx of white light for 2 h. Retinal morphology and rhodopsin content were analyzed nine days after light exposure. Gene expression studies were done using real-time PCR. Protein levels were determined by western blotting using specific antibodies.
Results
A lack of LIF reduced survival of photoreceptor cells after light exposure. In the absence of LIF several genes encoding molecules involved in the Janus kinase/signal transducer and activator of transcription (Jak/STAT) signaling pathway were not activated after light exposure. Presence or absence of LIF did not affect AKT (also known as protein kinase B, PKB) signaling and had only a mild effect on extracellular regulated kinase (ERK) phosphorylation. Stress-induced glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) induction was minimal in the absence of LIF.
Conclusions
Our results suggest that increased retinal expression of LIF is a general response to photoreceptor injury. Independent of the nature of the toxic insult (gene mutation, light), LIF may activate an endogenous rescue pathway that protects viable photoreceptor cells, leading to an increased photoreceptor survival in the stressed retina. This defense system may depend on the Jak/STAT pathway and may involve endothelin 2 (EDN2) but not (or only minimally) AKT and ERK1,2 signaling.
PMCID: PMC2728564  PMID: 19693290
7.  Analysis of the retinal gene expression profile after hypoxic preconditioning identifies candidate genes for neuroprotection 
BMC Genomics  2008;9:73.
Background
Retinal degeneration is a main cause of blindness in humans. Neuroprotective therapies may be used to rescue retinal cells and preserve vision. Hypoxic preconditioning stabilizes the transcription factor HIF-1α in the retina and strongly protects photoreceptors in an animal model of light-induced retinal degeneration. To address the molecular mechanisms of the protection, we analyzed the transcriptome of the hypoxic retina using microarrays and real-time PCR.
Results
Hypoxic exposure induced a marked alteration in the retinal transcriptome with significantly different expression levels of 431 genes immediately after hypoxic exposure. The normal expression profile was restored within 16 hours of reoxygenation. Among the differentially regulated genes, several candidates for neuroprotection were identified like metallothionein-1 and -2, the HIF-1 target gene adrenomedullin and the gene encoding the antioxidative and cytoprotective enzyme paraoxonase 1 which was previously not known to be a hypoxia responsive gene in the retina. The strongly upregulated cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor p21 was excluded from being essential for neuroprotection.
Conclusion
Our data suggest that neuroprotection after hypoxic preconditioning is the result of the differential expression of a multitude of genes which may act in concert to protect visual cells against a toxic insult.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-73
PMCID: PMC2270833  PMID: 18261226

Results 1-7 (7)