Glia-neuron interactions in the mammalian retina

Prog Retin Eye Res. 2016 Mar:51:1-40. doi: 10.1016/j.preteyeres.2015.06.003. Epub 2015 Jun 23.


The mammalian retina provides an excellent opportunity to study glia-neuron interactions and the interactions of glia with blood vessels. Three main types of glial cells are found in the mammalian retina that serve to maintain retinal homeostasis: astrocytes, Müller cells and resident microglia. Müller cells, astrocytes and microglia not only provide structural support but they are also involved in metabolism, the phagocytosis of neuronal debris, the release of certain transmitters and trophic factors and K(+) uptake. Astrocytes are mostly located in the nerve fibre layer and they accompany the blood vessels in the inner nuclear layer. Indeed, like Müller cells, astrocytic processes cover the blood vessels forming the retinal blood barrier and they fulfil a significant role in ion homeostasis. Among other activities, microglia can be stimulated to fulfil a macrophage function, as well as to interact with other glial cells and neurons by secreting growth factors. This review summarizes the main functional relationships between retinal glial cells and neurons, presenting a general picture of the retina recently modified based on experimental observations. The preferential involvement of the distinct glia cells in terms of the activity in the retina is discussed, for example, while Müller cells may serve as progenitors of retinal neurons, astrocytes and microglia are responsible for synaptic pruning. Since different types of glia participate together in certain activities in the retina, it is imperative to explore the order of redundancy and to explore the heterogeneity among these cells. Recent studies revealed the association of glia cell heterogeneity with specific functions. Finally, the neuroprotective effects of glia on photoreceptors and ganglion cells under normal and adverse conditions will also be explored.

Keywords: Astrocytes; Extracellular matrix; Glaucoma; Glial cells; Integrins; Macrophages; Microglia; Müller glia; Neurons; Neuroprotection; Neurotrophins; Photoreceptors; Plasticity; Retina; Retinal ganglion cells; Retinitis pigmentosa.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / physiology*
  • Blood Vessels / physiology
  • Cell Communication / physiology*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Ependymoglial Cells / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / physiology
  • Microglia / physiology*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology*