The electrophysiological properties of Müller cells, the principal glial cells of the retina, are determined by several types of K(+) conductances. Both the absolute and the relative activities of the individual types of K(+) channels undergo important changes in the course of ontogenetic development and during gliosis. Although immature Müller cells express inwardly rectifying K(+) (K(IR)) currents at a very low density, the membrane of normal mature Müller cells is predominated by the K(IR) conductance. The K(IR) channels mediate spatial buffering K(+) currents and maintain a stable hyperpolarized membrane potential necessary for various glial-neuronal interactions. During "conservative" (i.e., non-proliferative) reactive gliosis, the K(IR) conductance of Müller cells is moderately reduced and the cell membrane is slightly depolarized; however, when gliotic Müller cells become proliferative, their K(IR) conductances are dramatically down-regulated; this is accompanied by an increased activity of Ca(2+)-activated K(+) channels and by a conspicuous unstability of their membrane potential. The resultant variations of the membrane potential may increase the activity of depolarization-activated K(+), Na(+) and Ca(2+) channels. It is concluded that in respect to their K(+) current pattern, mature Müller cells pass through a process of dedifferentiation before proliferative activity is initiated.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.