Mechanisms Underlying the Visual Benefit of Cell Transplantation for the Treatment of Retinal Degenerations

Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Jan 28;20(3):557. doi: 10.3390/ijms20030557.


The transplantation of retinal cells has been studied in animals to establish proof of its potential benefit for the treatment of blinding diseases. Photoreceptor precursors have been grafted in animal models of Mendelian-inherited retinal degenerations, and retinal pigmented epithelial cells have been used to restore visual function in animal models of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and recently in patients. Cell therapy over corrective gene therapy in inherited retinal degeneration can overcome the genetic heterogeneity by providing one treatment for all genetic forms of the diseases. In AMD, the existence of multiple risk alleles precludes a priori the use of corrective gene therapy. Mechanistically, the experiments of photoreceptor precursor transplantation reveal the importance of cytoplasmic material exchange between the grafted cells and the host cells for functional rescue, an unsuspected mechanism and novel concept. For transplantation of retinal pigmented epithelial cells, the mechanisms behind the therapeutic benefit are only partially understood, and clinical trials are ongoing. The fascinating studies that describe the development of methodologies to produce cells to be grafted and demonstrate the functional benefit for vision are reviewed.

Keywords: age-related macular degeneration; cytoplasmic material transfer; induced-pluripotent stem cells; photoreceptors; retinal pigmented epithelium; retinitis pigmentosa.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Photoreceptor Cells / transplantation
  • Retinal Degeneration / genetics
  • Retinal Degeneration / therapy*
  • Retinal Pigment Epithelium / transplantation
  • Stem Cell Transplantation*
  • Vision, Ocular*