Peptidyl arginine deiminase 4 deficiency protects against subretinal fibrosis by inhibiting Müller glial hypercitrullination

J Neurosci Res. 2023 Apr;101(4):464-479. doi: 10.1002/jnr.25158. Epub 2022 Dec 29.


Retinal scarring with vision loss continues to be an enigma in individuals with advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Müller glial cells are believed to initiate and perpetuate scarring in retinal degeneration as these glial cells participate in reactive gliosis and undergo hypertrophy. We previously showed in the murine laser-induced model of choroidal neovascularization that models wet-AMD that glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) expression, an early marker of reactive gliosis, increases along with its posttranslational modification citrullination. This was related to increased co-expression of the citrullination enzyme peptidyl arginine deiminase-4 (PAD4), which also colocalizes to GFAP filaments. However, whether such hypercitrullination in Müller glial drives fibrotic pathology has remained understudied. Here, using male and female C57Bl6 mice subjected to laser injury, we investigated in a temporal study how citrullination impacts GFAP and PAD4 dynamics. We found that high molecular weight citrullinated species that accumulate in Müller glia corresponded with dynamic changes in GFAP and PAD4 showing their temporal redistribution from polymeric cytoskeletal to soluble protein fractions using immunostaining and western blot analysis. In conditional glial-specific PAD4 knockout (PAD4cKO) mice subjected to laser injury, there was a stark reduction of citrullination and of polymerized GFAP filaments. These injured PAD4cKO retinas showed improved lesion healing, as well as reduced fibronectin deposition in the subretinal space at 30 days. Taken together, these findings reveal that pathologically overexpressed PAD4 in reactive Müller glia governs GFAP filament dynamics and alters their stability, suggesting chronic PAD4-driven hypercitrullination may be a target for retinal fibrosis.

Keywords: GFAP; Müller glial endfeet; PAD4; RRID:AB_2338508; RRID:AB_2534091; RRID:AB_2535713; RRID:AB_2535813; RRID:AB_2572090; RRID:AB_2762843; RRID:AB_2802127; RRID:AB_304558; RRID:AB_306067; RRID:AB_650499; RRID:AB_650500; RRID:AB_881875; RRID:IMSR_JAX:012849; RRID:IMSR_JAX:026708; RRID:SCR_002798; RRID:SCR_003070; citrullination; retinal gliosis; subretinal fibrosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cicatrix / pathology
  • Female
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein / metabolism
  • Gliosis* / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Retinal Degeneration* / metabolism


  • arginine deiminase
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein