Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are specialized projection neurons that relay an immense amount of visual information from the retina to the brain. RGC signal inputs are collected by dendrites and output is distributed from the cell body via very thin (0.5-1 μm) and long (∼50 mm) axons. The RGC cell body is larger than other retinal neurons, but is still only a very small fraction (one ten thousandths) of the length and total surface area of the axon. The total distance traversed by RGCs extends from the retina, starting from synapses with bipolar and amacrine cells, to the brain, to synapses with neurons in the lateral geniculate nucleus. This review will focus on the energy demands of RGCs and the relevant tissues that surround them. RGC survival and function unexceptionally depends upon free energy, predominantly adenosine triphosphate (ATP). RGC energy metabolism is vastly different when compared to that of the photoreceptors. Each subcellular component of the RGC is remarkably different in terms of structure, function and extracellular environment. The energy demands and distribution of each component are also distinct as evidenced by the uneven distribution of mitochondria and ATP within the RGC - signifying the presence of intracellular energy gradients. In this review we will describe RGCs as having four subcellular components, (1) Dendrites, (2) Cell body, (3) Non-myelinated axon, including intraocular and optic nerve head portions, and (4) Myelinated axon, including the intra-orbital and intracranial portions. We will also describe how RGCs integrate information from each subcellular component in order achieve intracellular homeostatic stability as well as respond to perturbations in the extracellular environment. The possible cellular mechanisms such as axonal transport and axonal cytoskeleton proteins that are involved in maintaining RGC energy homeostasis during normal and disease conditions will also be discussed in depth. The emphasis of this review will be on energetic mechanisms within RGC components that have the most relevance to clinical ophthalmology.
Keywords: Axonal transport; Cytoskeletons; Energy metabolism; Glaucoma; Optic nerve; Oxygen; Retina; Retinal ganglion cell.
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