Structure of the macroglia of the retina: sharing and division of labour between astrocytes and Müller cells

J Comp Neurol. 1991 Nov 22;313(4):587-603. doi: 10.1002/cne.903130405.


A detailed comparison is made between astrocytes and Müller cells of the cat's retina, with emphasis on their structural specialisations. Evidence is presented that astrocytes and Müller cells both contribute to the formation of the inner glia limitans of the retina, the glia limitans of vessels, and the glial sheaths of neurones. In particular, it was noted that both astrocytes and Müller cells wrap bundles of ganglion cells axons, that both contribute processes to the glial convergence on the initial segments and node-like structures of axons, and that both wrap the somas of neurones in the ganglion cell layer. Further, it was noted that adherent junctions form between astrocytes, between Müller cells, and between astrocytes and Müller cells, but not between these cells and neurones, or among neurones. These similarities suggest that astrocytes and Müller cells function interchangeably in many respects, and we suggest that they be regarded as variants of macroglia. Quantitative differences between astrocytes and Müller cells were noted in their ensheathment of neurones. In particular, the glial sheaths around the somas of ganglion cells are formed predominantly by Müller cells, and the glial processes attached to node-like specialisations of their axons are formed mainly by astrocytes. One qualitative difference was noted between the two cell classes. The gap junctions which form between astrocytes do not form between Müller cells or between cells of the two classes. From these differences, and previously established features of their shape, orientation, distribution and origin, a hypothesis is developed of the specialisation of macroglia represented by Müller cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / biosynthesis
  • Astrocytes / ultrastructure*
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Cats / anatomy & histology*
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Intercellular Junctions / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Neuroglia / ultrastructure*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Retina / cytology*
  • Retinal Vessels / ultrastructure


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal