Activation of glucocorticoid receptors in Müller glia is protective to retinal neurons and suppresses microglial reactivity.

Gallina D, Zelinka CP, Cebulla CM, Fischer AJ
Exp Neurol 273 114-25 11/01/2015


Reactive microglia and macrophages are prevalent in damaged retinas. Glucocorticoid signaling is known to suppress inflammation and the reactivity of microglia and macrophages. In the vertebrate retina, the glucocorticoid receptor (GCR) is known to be activated and localized to the nuclei of Müller glia (Gallina et al., 2014). Accordingly, we investigated how signaling through GCR influences the survival of neurons using the chick retina in vivo as a model system. We applied intraocular injections of GCR agonist or antagonist, assessed microglial reactivity, and the survival of retinal neurons following different damage paradigms. Microglial reactivity was increased in retinas from eyes that were injected with vehicle, and this reactivity was decreased by GCR-agonist dexamethasone (Dex) and increased by GCR-antagonist RU486. We found that activation of GCR suppresses the reactivity of microglia and inhibited the loss of retinal neurons resulting from excitotoxicity. We provide evidence that the protection-promoting effects of Dex were maintained when the microglia were selectively ablated. Similarly, intraocular injections of Dex protected ganglion cells from colchicine-treatment and protected photoreceptors from damage caused by retinal detachment. We conclude that activation of GCR promotes the survival of ganglion cells in colchicine-damaged retinas, promotes the survival of amacrine and bipolar cells in excitotoxin-damaged retinas, and promotes the survival of photoreceptors in detached retinas. We propose that suppression of microglial reactivity is secondary to activation of GCR in Müller glia, and this mode of signaling is an effective means to lessen the damage and vision loss resulting from different types of retinal damage.

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