Cannabinoid signaling promotes the de-differentiation and proliferation of Müller glia-derived progenitor cells

Glia. 2021 Oct;69(10):2503-2521. doi: 10.1002/glia.24056. Epub 2021 Jul 7.


Endocannabinoids (eCB) are lipid-based neurotransmitters that are known to influence synaptic function in the visual system. eCBs are also known to suppress neuroinflammation in different pathological states. However, nothing is known about the roles of the eCB system during the transition of Müller glia (MG) into proliferating progenitor-like cells in the retina. Accordingly, we used the chick and mouse model to characterize expression patterns of eCB-related genes and applied pharmacological agents to investigate how the eCB system impacts glial reactivity and the capacity of MG to become Müller glia-derived progenitor cells (MGPCs). We queried single cell RNA-seq libraries to identify eCB-related genes and identify cells with dynamic patterns of expression in damaged retinas. MG and inner retinal neurons expressed the eCB receptor CNR1, as well as enzymes involved in eCB metabolism. In the chick, intraocular injections of cannabinoids, 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and Anandamide (AEA), stimulated the formation of MGPCs. Cannabinoid Receptor 1 (CNR1)-agonists and Monoglyceride Lipase-inhibitor promoted the formation of MGPCs, whereas CNR1-antagonist and inhibitors of eCB synthesis suppressed this process. In damaged mouse retinas where MG activate NFkB-signaling, activation of CNR1 decreased and inhibition of CNR1 increased NFkB, whereas levels of neuronal cell death were unaffected. Surprisingly, retinal microglia were largely unaffected by increases or decreases in eCB-signaling in both chick and mouse retinas. We conclude that the eCB system in the retina influences the reactivity of MG and the formation of proliferating MGPCs, but does not influence the reactivity of immune cells in the retina.

Keywords: Müller glia; Müller glia-derived progenitor cells; endocannabinoids; microglia; scRNA-seq.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cannabinoids*
  • Cell Proliferation / physiology
  • Ependymoglial Cells / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Retina / metabolism
  • Stem Cells* / metabolism


  • Cannabinoids