Characterization of Retinal Progenitor Cells : Focus on Proliferation and the GABAA Receptor System

Sammanfattning: One strategy to repair an injured or degenerated retina is to stimulate the replacement of damaged or dead neurons with cells derived from endogenous stem- or progenitor cells. A successful strategy requires knowledge about how the proliferation and differentiation of the endogenous cells are regulated. In particular, this knowledge will be important in the establishment of protocols that produce sufficient numbers of specific neurons. The main aim of this thesis was to find and characterise factors regulating the proliferation and differentiation of retinal progenitor cells (RPCs) and hence, contribute to the knowledge of how to use progenitor cells for retinal repair.   The major result in this thesis is that GABA contributes to and maintains RPC proliferation. Inhibition of GABAA receptors decreases the proliferation of non-pigmented ciliary epithelial (NPE) cells and RPCs in the intact retina. We propose that this effect is mediated through changes in the membrane potential and voltage-gated calcium channels, which in turn regulate components of the cell cycle. Furthermore, we show that one of the endogenous RPC sources, the Müller cells, consists of two subpopulations based on Pax2 expression. This is interesting because Pax2 may suppress the neurogenic potential, characterised by de-differentiation and proliferation, in Müller cells. Finally, we show that over-expression of FoxN4 induces differentiation-associated transcription factors in the developing chick retina. However, FoxN4 over-expression did not trigger differentiation of NPE cells. These results indicate that the intrinsic properties of the RPCs are determinant for FoxN4-induced differentiation.The results presented in this thesis advance our understanding of how specific cells may be generated from different sources of RPCs. Our results show that the different sources are highly diverse in their potential to proliferate and produce neurons. GABA, Pax2 and FoxN4 may be factors to consider when designing strategies for retinal repair. However, the results indicate that the specific responses to these factors are highly associated with the specific properties of the progenitor cells.