Within the retina, the Müller cells and photoreceptors are in close physical proximity and are metabolically coupled. It is unknown, however, whether Müller cells affect photoreceptor differentiation and outer segment membrane assembly. The objective of this study was to determine whether targeted disruption of Müller cell metabolism would induce photoreceptor dysmorphogenesis. Intact isolated Xenopus laevis embryonic eyes were cultured in medium with or without Müller cell-specific inhibitors (i.e., alpha-aminoadipic acid and fluorocitrate). To assess Müller cell injury, the gross retinal morphology was examined along with immunocytochemical assessment of Müller cell-specific protein expression patterns. The steady-state levels of opsin were quantified to determine whether the Müller cell inhibitors negatively affected photoreceptor protein synthesis. Müller and photoreceptor cell ultrastructure was scrutinized and the organization of the outer segment membranes was graded. In control retinas, there was no swelling of Müller cell cytoplasm. Glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) was undetectable, whereas glutamine synthetase was abundant. The steady-state level of opsin was high and photoreceptors elaborated properly folded outer segments. Exposure to both Müller cell-specific inhibitors induced swelling of Müller cell endfeet, cytoplasmic paling and alterations of Müller cell-specific protein expression patterns. The steady-state level of opsin in retinas exposed to alpha-aminoadipic acid was unchanged compared with control eyes, whereas, in eyes exposed to fluorocitrate, opsin levels were slightly reduced. The most significant finding was that targeted disruption of Müller cell metabolism adversely affected photoreceptor outer segment membrane assembly, causing dysmorphogenesis of nascent outer segments. These results suggest that the termination signal(s) necessary for proper outer segment folding were disrupted by targeted inhibition of Müller cells and support the hypothesis that Müller cells interact with photoreceptors through mechanisms that may regulate, at least in part, the assembly of photoreceptor outer segment membranes.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.