Eyes that have experienced alkali burn to the surface are excessively susceptible to subsequent severe glaucoma and retinal ganglion cell loss, despite maximal efforts to prevent or slow down the disease. Recently, we have shown, in mice and rabbits, that such retinal damage is neither mediated by the alkali itself reaching the retina nor by intraocular pressure elevation. Rather, it is caused by the up-regulation of tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), which rapidly diffuses posteriorly, causing retinal ganglion cell apoptosis and CD45+ cell activation. Herein, we investigated the involvement of peripheral blood monocytes and microglia in retinal damage. Using CX3CR1+/EGFP::CCR2+/RFP reporter mice and bone marrow chimeras, we show that peripheral CX3CR1+CD45hiCD11b+MHC-II+ monocytes infiltrate into the retina from the optic nerve at 24 hours after the burn and release further TNF-α. A secondary source of peripheral monocyte response originates from a rare population of patrolling myeloid CCR2+ cells of the retina that differentiate into CX3CR1+ macrophages within hours after the injury. As a result, CX3CR1+CD45loCD11b+ microglia become reactive at 7 days, causing further TNF-α release. Prompt TNF-α inhibition after corneal burn suppresses monocyte infiltration and microglia activation, and protects the retina. This study may prove relevant to other injuries of the central nervous system.
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