Autoimmune uveoretinitis is a significant cause of visual loss, and mouse models offer unique opportunities to study its disease mechanisms. Aire -/- mice fail to express self-antigens in the thymus, exhibit reduced central tolerance, and develop a spontaneous, chronic, and progressive uveoretinitis. Using single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq), we characterized wild-type and Aire -/- retinas to define, in a comprehensive and unbiased manner, the cell populations and gene expression patterns associated with disease. Based on scRNA-seq, immunostaining, and in situ hybridization, we infer that 1) the dominant effector response in Aire -/- retinas is Th1-driven, 2) a subset of monocytes convert to either a macrophage/microglia state or a dendritic cell state, 3) the development of tertiary lymphoid structures constitutes part of the Aire -/- retinal phenotype, 4) all major resident retinal cell types respond to interferon gamma (IFNG) by changing their patterns of gene expression, and 5) Muller glia up-regulate specific genes in response to IFN gamma and may act as antigen-presenting cells.
Keywords: Aire knockout; autoimmune uveitis; mouse model; ocular immunology; single-cell RNAseq.