Uveal melanocytes, ocular pigment epithelium, and Müller cells in culture: in vitro toxicology

Int J Toxicol. 2002 Nov-Dec;21(6):465-72. doi: 10.1080/10915810290169891.


Uveal melanocytes and the ocular pigment epithelium are located in the middle and inner layers of the eye. Müller cells (a type of glial cell) are located in the neural retina. Melanocytes, retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), and Müller cells do not participate directly in the detection or transfer of visual information, but they have various functions that support the neural retina and are essential for the maintenance of vision. Methods for the isolation and cultivation of melanocytes, RPE, and Müller cells have been established by us and other investigators. These cultured cells can be used as in vitro model systems for studying the toxicology of visible light, ultraviolet (UV) radiation, drugs, and other potentially toxic agents. Toxic effects on these cells may give rise to altered retinal function and result in impaired vision. Both melanocytes and pigment epithelium contain melanin, which has the ability to bind organic amines and metal ions. This results in the accumulation of these substances in the eye. Melanin may protect cells from chemical stress by binding toxic chemicals; but in chronic exposure, increased and lengthy binding may cause damage to these cells. Two different types of melanin are found in the eye: eumelanin and pheomelanin, which may have photoprotective and phototoxic effects, respectively. Pigment epithelium contains mainly eumelanin, whereas melanocytes contain both eumelanin and pheomelanin. Melanin is an antioxidant and with age, the antioxidant properties may diminish to the point that it may even become a prooxidant. There are also other functions of pigment epithelium and uveal melanocytes not related to melanin and there are also several functions of Muller cells that play a role in the toxicological aspects of the eye. Cultured uveal melanocytes, pigment epithelial cells, and Müller cells can be used to study the toxicology of these cells in vitro.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Testing Alternatives
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Humans
  • Melanocytes / cytology*
  • Melanocytes / drug effects
  • Melanocytes / radiation effects
  • Neuroglia / cytology*
  • Neuroglia / drug effects
  • Neuroglia / radiation effects
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / cytology*
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / drug effects
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / radiation effects
  • Toxicity Tests*
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects
  • Uvea / cytology*
  • Xenobiotics / toxicity


  • Xenobiotics