The Role of Microglia in Diabetic Retinopathy: Inflammation, Microvasculature Defects and Neurodegeneration

Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Jan 1;19(1):110. doi: 10.3390/ijms19010110.


Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes mellitus, which appears in one third of all diabetic patients and is a prominent cause of vision loss. First discovered as a microvascular disease, intensive research in the field identified inflammation and neurodegeneration to be part of diabetic retinopathy. Microglia, the resident monocytes of the retina, are activated due to a complex interplay between the different cell types of the retina and diverse pathological pathways. The trigger for developing diabetic retinopathy is diabetes-induced hyperglycemia, accompanied by leukostasis and vascular leakages. Transcriptional changes in activated microglia, mediated via the nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NFκB) and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signaling pathways, results in release of various pro-inflammatory mediators, including cytokines, chemokines, caspases and glutamate. Activated microglia additionally increased proliferation and migration. Among other consequences, these changes in microglia severely affected retinal neurons, causing increased apoptosis and subsequent thinning of the nerve fiber layer, resulting in visual loss. New potential therapeutics need to interfere with these diabetic complications even before changes in the retina are diagnosed, to prevent neuronal apoptosis and blindness in patients.

Keywords: angiogenesis; diabetic retinopathy; microglia; neurodegeneration; retina.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Retinal Barrier / metabolism*
  • Blood-Retinal Barrier / pathology
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / metabolism
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Microglia / metabolism*
  • Microglia / pathology
  • Retinal Vessels / metabolism*
  • Retinal Vessels / pathology