PURPOSE: Microglia and Müller cells are prominent participants in retinal responses to injury and disease that shape eventual tissue adaptation or damage. This investigation examined how microglia and Müller cells interact with each other following initial microglial activation.
METHODS: Mouse Müller cells were cultured alone, or co-cultured with activated or unactivated retinal microglia, and their morphological, molecular, and functional responses were evaluated. Müller cell-feedback signaling to microglia was studied using Müller cell-conditioned media. Corroborative in vivo analyses of retinal microglia-Müller cell interactions in the mouse retina were also performed.
RESULTS: Our results demonstrate that Müller cells exposed to activated microglia, relative to those cultured alone or with unactivated microglia, exhibit marked alterations in cell morphology and gene expression that differed from those seen in chronic gliosis. These Müller cells demonstrated in vitro (1) an upregulation of growth factors such as GDNF and LIF, and provide neuroprotection to photoreceptor cells, (2) increased pro-inflammatory factor production, which in turn increased microglial activation in a positive feedback loop, and (3) upregulated chemokine and adhesion protein expression, which allowed Müller cells to attract and adhere to microglia. In vivo activation of microglia by intravitreal injection of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) also induced increased Müller cell-microglia adhesion, indicating that activated microglia may translocate intraretinally in a radial direction using Müller cell processes as an adhesive scaffold.
CONCLUSION: Our findings demonstrate that activated microglia are able to influence Müller cells directly, and initiate a program of bidirectional microglia-Müller cell signaling that can mediate adaptive responses within the retina following injury. In the acute aftermath following initial microglia activation, Müller cell responses may serve to augment initial inflammatory responses across retinal lamina and to guide the intraretinal mobilization of migratory microglia using chemotactic cues and adhesive cell contacts. Understanding adaptive microglia-Müller cell interactions in injury responses can help discover therapeutic cellular targets for intervention in retinal disease.
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