Müller cells in the healthy and diseased retina

Prog Retin Eye Res. 2006 Jul;25(4):397-424. doi: 10.1016/j.preteyeres.2006.05.003. Epub 2006 Jul 12.


Müller glial cells span the entire thickness of the tissue, and ensheath all retinal neurons, in vertebrate retinae of all species. This morphological relationship is reflected by a multitude of functional interactions between neurons and Müller cells, including a 'metabolic symbiosis' and the processing of visual information. Müller cells are also responsible for the maintenance of the homeostasis of the retinal extracellular milieu (ions, water, neurotransmitter molecules, and pH). In vascularized retinae, Müller cells may also be involved in the control of angiogenesis, and the regulation of retinal blood flow. Virtually every disease of the retina is associated with a reactive Müller cell gliosis which, on the one hand, supports the survival of retinal neurons but, on the other hand, may accelerate the progress of neuronal degeneration: Müller cells protect neurons via a release of neurotrophic factors, the uptake and degradation of the excitotoxin, glutamate, and the secretion of the antioxidant, glutathione. However, gliotic Müller cells display a dysregulation of various neuron-supportive functions. This contributes to a disturbance of retinal glutamate metabolism and ion homeostasis, and causes the development of retinal edema and neuronal cell death. Moreover, there are diseases evoking a primary Müller cell insufficiency, such as hepatic retinopathy and certain forms of glaucoma. Any impairment of supportive functions of Müller cells, primary or secondary, must cause and/or aggravate a dysfunction and loss of neurons, by increasing the susceptibility of neurons to stressful stimuli in the diseased retina. On the contrary, Müller cells may be used in the future for novel therapeutic strategies to protect neurons against apoptosis (somatic gene therapy), or to differentiate retinal neurons from Müller/stem cells. Meanwhile, a proper understanding of the gliotic responses of Müller cells in the diseased retina, and of their protective vs. detrimental effects, is essential for the development of efficient therapeutic strategies that use and stimulate the neuron-supportive/protective-and prevent the destructive-mechanisms of gliosis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Neuroglia / pathology*
  • Retinal Diseases / pathology*