Adult retinal pigment epithelium cells express neural progenitor properties and the neuronal precursor protein doublecortin

Brain Res. 2005 Apr 8;1040(1-2):98-111. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2005.01.075.


The adult mammalian retina is devoid of any detectable neurogenesis. However, different cell types have been suggested to potentially act as neural progenitors in the adult mammalian retina in vitro, such as ciliary body (CB), Muller glia, and retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells. In rodents and humans, strong evidence for neural stem or progenitor properties exists only for CB-derived cells, but not for other retinal cell types. Here, we provide a comparative analysis of adult rat CB- and RPE-derived cells suggesting that the two cell types share certain neural progenitor properties in vitro. CB and RPE cells expressed neural progenitor markers such as Nestin, Flk-1, Hes1, and Musashi. They proliferated under adherent and neurosphere conditions and showed limited self-renewal. Moreover, they differentiated into neuronal and glial cells based on the expression of differentiation markers such as the young neuronal marker beta-III tubulin and the glial and progenitor markers GFAP and NG2. Expression of beta-III tubulin was found in cells with neuronal and non-neuronal morphology. A subpopulation of RPE- and CB-derived progenitor cells expressed the neurogenesis-specific protein doublecortin (DCX). Interestingly, DCX expression defined a beta-III tubulin-positive CB and RPE fraction with a distinct neuronal morphology. In summary, the data suggest that RPE cells share with CB cells the potential to de-differentiate into a cell type with neural progenitor-like identity. In addition, DCX expression might define the neuronal-differentiating RPE- and CB-derived progenitor population.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Ciliary Body / cytology
  • Ciliary Body / metabolism
  • Doublecortin Domain Proteins
  • Doublecortin Protein
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / genetics
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neuropeptides / biosynthesis*
  • Neuropeptides / genetics
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / cytology
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Stem Cells / physiology*


  • DCX protein, human
  • Dcx protein, rat
  • Doublecortin Domain Proteins
  • Doublecortin Protein
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • Neuropeptides