Purpose: To compare the distribution of a developmentally regulated 16-kDa galectin in the chicken retina at two different developmental stages: embryonic day 13 (ED13) and postnatal day 10 (PD10) retinas, by immunocytochemical analysis using light and transmission electron microscopy.
Methods: Semi-thin and thin sections from ED13 and PD10 retinas were incubated with the IgG fraction purified from a rabbit antiserum raised against the 16-kDa chicken galectin. After incubation with colloidal gold particle-labeled goat anti-rabbit IgGs, tissue sections were analyzed by light and transmission electron microscopy. To improve the observation by light microscopy, semi-thin immunostained sections were intensified by silver enhancement.
Results: In ED13 retinas a specific galectin labeling was detected in the region corresponding to the outer limiting membrane by light microscopy. This labeling seemed to be associated with the apical villi of Muller glial cells and their specialized junctions, as judged by transmission electron microscopy. In PD10 retinas, the more relevant finding revealed by light microscopy was the detection of a widespread immunostaining at the level of all retinal layers. The ultrastructural analysis indicated that the galectin labeling was detected at the cytoplasmic and nuclear compartments of Muller cells throughout the different retinal layers. Moreover, the labeling was detected in the inner limiting membrane in structures that resemble the end feet of Muller cells. The apical villi, and the specialized junctions of these glial cells, appeared more strongly stained in PD10 retinas than in ED13 retinas. Finally, highly intense labeling in a group of mitochondria localized in the inner segments of cone cells was observed.
Conclusions: The present study clearly supports the idea that the subcellular distribution of the 16-kDa galectin changes during the development of the chicken retina. Morphologic changes associated with developmentally regulated expression and subcellular compartmentalization of the retinal galectin suggest that this lectin may be involved in the modulation of several processes in the visual system. Its presence in the apical villi of Miller cells may be related by modulatory functions between retina and pigment epithelium, but its presence in the cytoplasm and nucleus of these glial cells suggests a potential immunomodulatory role and its involvement in different metabolic processes between Muller and the other retinal cells. Finally, although the presence of galectins inside mitochondria has not been described before, this localization gives rise to the idea that this lectin may be involved in the modulation of mitochondrial processes.