The stimulation of progenitor or stem cells proliferation in the retina could be a therapeutic avenue for the treatment of various ocular neurodegenerative disorders. Müller glia cells have been discussed to represent a progenitor cell population in the adult retina. In the brain, TGF-β signaling regulates the fate of stem cells; however, its role in the vertebrate retina is unclear. We therefore investigated whether manipulation of the TGF-β signaling pathway is sufficient to promote Müller glia cell proliferation and subsequently their trans-differentiation into retinal neurons. To this end, we used mice with heterozygous deficiency of the essential TGF-β receptor type II or of the inhibitory protein SMAD7, in order to down- or up-regulate the activity of TGF-β signaling, respectively. Excitotoxic damage was applied by intravitreal N-methyl-d-aspartate injection, and BrdU pulse experiments were used to label proliferative cells. Although we successfully stimulated Müller glia cell reactivity, our findings indicate that a moderate modulation of TGF-β signaling is not sufficient to provoke Müller glia cell proliferation. Hence, TGF-β signaling in the retina might not be the essential causative factor to maintain mammalian Müller cells in a quiescent, non-proliferative state that prevents a stem cell-like function.
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The authors would like to thank Elke Stauber, Angelika Pach, Margit Schimmel and Silvia Babl for their excellent technical assistance. This work was supported by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft Grant FOR 1075 (TP9).
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