How does the eye breathe? Evidence for neuroglobin-mediated oxygen supply in the mammalian retina

J Biol Chem. 2003 Jan 17;278(3):1932-5. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M209909200. Epub 2002 Oct 29.


Visual performance of the vertebrate eye requires large amounts of oxygen, and thus the retina is one of the highest oxygen-consuming tissues of the body. Here we show that neuroglobin, a neuron-specific respiratory protein distantly related to hemoglobin and myoglobin, is present at high amounts in the mouse retina (approximately 100 microm). The estimated concentration of neuroglobin in the retina is thus about 100-fold higher than in the brain and is in the same range as that of myoglobin in the muscle. Neuroglobin is expressed in all neurons of the retina but not in the retinal pigment epithelium. Neuroglobin mRNA was detected in the perikarya of the nuclear and ganglion layers of the neuronal retina, whereas the protein was present mainly in the plexiform layers and in the ellipsoid region of photoreceptor inner segment. The distribution of neuroglobin correlates with the subcellular localization of mitochondria and with the relative oxygen demands, as the plexiform layers and the inner segment consume most of the retinal oxygen. These findings suggest that neuroglobin supplies oxygen to the retina, similar to myoglobin in the myocardium and the skeletal muscle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Globins / metabolism
  • Globins / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / physiology*
  • Neuroglobin
  • Oxygen / physiology*
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / physiology
  • Retina / metabolism
  • Retina / physiology*


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Neuroglobin
  • Globins
  • Oxygen