In vivo imaging of adeno-associated viral vector labelled retinal ganglion cells.
ABSTRACT: A defining characteristic of optic neuropathies, such as glaucoma, is progressive loss of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). Current clinical tests only provide weak surrogates of RGC loss, but the possibility of optically visualizing RGCs and quantifying their rate of loss could represent a radical advance in the management of optic neuropathies. In this study we injected two different adeno-associated viral (AAV) vector serotypes in the vitreous to enable green fluorescent protein (GFP) labelling of RGCs in wild-type mice for in vivo and non-invasive imaging. GFP-labelled cells were detected by confocal scanning laser ophthalmoscopy 1-week post-injection and plateaued in density at 4 weeks. Immunohistochemical analysis 5-weeks post-injection revealed labelling specificity to RGCs to be significantly higher with the AAV2-DCX-GFP vector compared to the AAV2-CAG-GFP vector. There were no adverse functional or structural effects of the labelling method as determined with electroretinography and optical coherence tomography, respectively. The RGC-specific positive and negative scotopic threshold responses had similar amplitudes between control and experimental eyes, while inner retinal thickness was also unchanged after injection. As a positive control experiment, optic nerve transection resulted in a progressive loss of labelled RGCs. AAV vectors provide strong and long-lasting GFP labelling of RGCs without detectable adverse effects.
Project description:SIRT1 prevents retinal ganglion cell (RGC) loss in models of optic neuropathy following pharmacologic activation or genetic overexpression. The exact mechanism of loss is not known, prior evidence suggests this is through oxidative stress to either neighboring cells or RGC specifically. We investigated the neuroprotective potential of RGC-selective SIRT1 gene therapy in the optic nerve crush (ONC) model. We hypothesized that AAV-mediated overexpression of SIRT1 in RGCs reduces RGC loss, thereby preserving visual function. Cohorts of C57Bl/6J mice received intravitreal injection of experimental or control AAVs using either a ganglion cell promoter or a constitutive promoter and ONC was performed. Visual function was examined by optokinetic response (OKR) for 7 days following ONC. Retina and optic nerves were harvested to investigate RGC survival by immunolabeling. The AAV7m8-SNCG.SIRT1 vector showed 44% transduction efficiency for RGCs compared with 25% (P > 0.05) by AAV2-CAG.SIRT1, and AAV7m8-SNCG.SIRT1 drives expression selectively in RGCs in vivo. Animals modeling ONC demonstrated reduced visual acuity compared to controls. Intravitreal delivery of AAV7m8-SNCG.SIRT1 mediated significant preservation of the OKR and RGC survival compared to AAV7m8-SNCG.eGFP controls, an effect not seen with the AAV2 vector. RGC-selective expression of SIRT1 offers a targeted therapy for an animal model with significant ganglion cell loss. Over-expression of SIRT1 through AAV-mediated gene transduction suggests a RGC selective component of neuro-protection using the ONC model. This study expands our understanding of SIRT1 mediated neuroprotection in the context of compressive or traumatic optic neuropathy, making it a strong therapeutic candidate for testing in all optic neuropathies.
Project description:Leucine-rich repeat and immunoglobulin-like domain-containing nogo receptor-interacting protein 1 (lingo-1) is selectively expressed on neurons and oligodendrocytes in the central nervous system and acts as a negative regulator in neural repair, implying a potential role in optic neuropathy. The aim of the present study was to determine whether adeno-associated virus serotype 2 (AAV2) vector-mediated transfer of lingo-1 short hairpin RNA could reduce nerve crush-induced axonal degeneration and enhance axonal regeneration following optic nerve (ON) injury in vivo. The expression of lingo-1 was knocked down in vivo using a green fluorescent protein (GFP)-tagged AAV2 encoding lingo-1 shRNA via intravitreal injection in adult Sprague-Dawley rats. Silencing effects of AAV2-lingo-1-shRNA were confirmed by detecting GFP labelling of RGCs, and by quantifying lingo-1 expression levels with reverse transcription-quantitative polymerase chain reaction and western blotting. Rats received an intravitreal injection of AAV2-lingo-1-shRNA or negative control shRNA. The ON crush (ONC) injury was performed 2 weeks after the intravitreal injection. RGC density, lesion volume of the injured ON and the visual electrophysiology [flash visual evoked potential (F-VEP)] at different time points post-injury were determined. Transduction with lingo-1-shRNA decreased lingo-1 expression levels and promoted RGC survival following ONC. Lingo-1-shRNA promoted ON tissue repair and functional recovery. The mechanism underlying the effect of AAV2-lingo-1-shRNA on RGCs may be the phosphorylation of protein kinase B (Akt) at Ser473 and activation of the Akt signaling pathway acting downstream of lingo-1. The results of the current study indicate that the inhibition of lingo-1 may enhance RGC survival and facilitate functional recovery following ON injury, representing a promising potential strategy for the repair of optic neuropathy.
Project description:Molecular insights into the selective vulnerability of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) in optic neuropathies and after ocular trauma can lead to the development of novel therapeutic strategies aimed at preserving RGCs. However, little is known about what molecular contexts determine RGC susceptibility. In this study, we show the molecular mechanisms underlying the regional differential vulnerability of RGCs after optic nerve injury. We identified RGCs in the mouse peripheral ventrotemporal (VT) retina as the earliest population of RGCs susceptible to optic nerve injury. Mechanistically, the serotonin transporter (SERT) is upregulated on VT axons after injury. Utilizing SERT-deficient mice, loss of SERT attenuated VT RGC death and led to robust retinal axon regeneration. Integrin β3, a factor mediating SERT-induced functions in other systems, is also upregulated in RGCs and axons after injury, and loss of integrin β3 led to VT RGC protection and axon regeneration. Finally, RNA sequencing analyses revealed that loss of SERT significantly altered molecular signatures in the VT retina after optic nerve injury, including expression of the transmembrane protein, Gpnmb. GPNMB is rapidly downregulated in wild-type, but not SERT- or integrin β3-deficient VT RGCs after injury, and maintaining expression of GPNMB in RGCs via AAV2 viruses even after injury promoted VT RGC survival and axon regeneration. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that the SERT-integrin β3-GPNMB molecular axis mediates selective RGC vulnerability and axon regeneration after optic nerve injury. Author summary Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are the only neurons in the retina that convey visual information to the brain, doing so via the optic nerve. Major causes of optic nerve damage and subsequent RGC death are ocular trauma and optic neuropathies. At the end-stage pathology in the retina, remaining RGCs have high neuroprotective capacity, and active resilience mechanisms exist. In contrast, in this study, we demonstrate neurodegenerative mechanisms based on the early susceptibility of peripheral ventrotemporal (VT) RGCs to degeneration after optic nerve injury. We identified the serotonin transporter (SERT) as the factor mediating VT RGC vulnerability and axon regeneration. Loss of SERT affected activation of integrin β3 and gene expression in the peripheral VT retina, leading to peripheral VT RGC protection and axon regeneration. Interestingly, GPNMB, a newly identified molecule mediating neuroprotection and axon regeneration in this study, is expressed in all retinal regions. However, GPNMB expression is acutely downregulated by the presence of SERT in the peripheral VT retina, leading to regional differential vulnerability of RGCs. These findings provide new molecular mechanisms underlying selective RGC vulnerability and clues that could inform further neuroprotective and regenerative strategies.
Project description:Previous studies have demonstrated that intravitreal delivery of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) by injection of recombinant protein or by gene therapy can alleviate retinal ganglion cell (RGC) loss after optic nerve injury. BDNF gene therapy can improve RGC survival in experimental models of glaucoma, the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide. However, the therapeutic efficacy of BDNF supplementation alone is time limited at least in part due to BDNF receptor downregulation. Tropomyosin-related receptor kinase-B (TrkB) downregulation has been reported in many neurological diseases including glaucoma, potentially limiting the effect of sustained or repeated BDNF delivery.Here, we characterize a novel adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene therapy (AAV2 TrkB-2A-mBDNF) that not only increases BDNF production but also improves long-term neuroprotective signaling by increasing expression of the BDNF receptor (TrkB) within the inner retina. This approach leads to significant and sustained elevation of survival signaling pathways ERK and AKT within RGCs over 6 months and avoids the receptor downregulation which we observe with treatment with AAV2 BDNF alone. We validate the neuroprotective efficacy of AAV2 TrkB-2A-mBDNF in a mouse model of optic nerve injury, where it outperforms conventional AAV2 BDNF or AAV2 TrkB therapy, before showing powerful proof of concept neuroprotection of RGCs and axons in a rat model of chronic intraocular pressure (IOP) elevation. We also show that there are no adverse effects of the vector on retinal structure or function as assessed by histology and electroretinography in young or aged animals. Further studies are underway to explore the potential of this vector as a candidate for progression into clinical studies to protect RGCs in patients with glaucoma and progressive visual loss despite conventional IOP-lowering treatment.
Project description:Optic neuropathies are a major cause of visual impairment due to retinal ganglion cell (RGC) degeneration. Human induced-pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) represent a powerful tool for studying both human RGC development and RGC-related pathological mechanisms. Because RGC loss can be massive before the diagnosis of visual impairment, cell replacement is one of the most encouraging strategies. The present work describes the generation of functional RGCs from iPSCs based on innovative 3D/2D stepwise differentiation protocol. We demonstrate that targeting the cell surface marker THY1 is an effective strategy to select transplantable RGCs. By generating a fluorescent GFP reporter iPSC line to follow transplanted cells, we provide evidence that THY1-positive RGCs injected into the vitreous of mice with optic neuropathy can survive up to 1 month, intermingled with the host RGC layer. These data support the usefulness of iPSC-derived RGC exploration as a potential future therapeutic strategy for optic nerve regeneration.
Project description:Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are the only output neurons of the vertebrate retina, integrating signals from other retinal neurons and transmitting information to the visual centers of the brain. The death of RGCs is a common outcome in many optic neuropathies, such as glaucoma, demyelinating optic neuritis and ischemic optic neuropathy, resulting in visual defects and blindness. There are currently no therapies in clinical use which can prevent RGC death in optic neuropathies; therefore, the identification of new targets for supporting RGC survival is crucial in the development of novel treatments for eye diseases. In this study we identify that the receptor tyrosine kinase, Tyro3, is critical for normal neuronal function in the adult mouse retina. The loss of Tyro3 results in a reduction in photoreceptor and RGC function as measured using electroretinography. The reduction in RGC function was associated with a thinner retinal nerve fiber layer and fewer RGCs. In the central retina, independent of the loss of RGCs, Tyro3 deficiency resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of RGC dendrites in the inner plexiform layer. Our results show that Tyro3 has a novel, previously unidentified role in retinal function, RGC survival and RGC morphology. The Tyro3 pathway could therefore provide an alternative, targetable pathway for RGC protective therapeutics.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>Optic nerve damage initiates a series of early atrophic events in retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) that precede the BAX-dependent committed step of the intrinsic apoptotic program. Nuclear atrophy, including global histone deacetylation, heterochromatin formation, shrinkage and collapse of nuclear structure, and the silencing of normal gene expression, comprise an important obstacle to overcome in therapeutic approaches to preserve neuronal function. Several studies have implicated histone deacetylases (HDACs) in the early stages of neuronal cell death, including RGCs. Importantly, these neurons exhibit nuclear translocation of HDAC3 shortly after optic nerve damage. Additionally, HDAC3 activity has been reported to be selectively toxic to neurons.<h4>Results</h4>RGC-specific conditional knockout of Hdac3 was achieved by transducing the RGCs of Hdac3fl/fl mice with an adeno-associated virus serotype 2 carrying CRE recombinase and GFP (AAV2-Cre/GFP). Controls included similar viral transduction of Rosa26fl/fl reporter mice. Optic nerve crush (ONC) was then performed on eyes. The ablation of Hdac3 in RGCs resulted in significant amelioration of characteristics of ONC-induced nuclear atrophy such as H4 deacetylation, heterochromatin formation, and the loss of nuclear structure. RGC death was also significantly reduced. Interestingly, loss of Hdac3 expression did not lead to protection against RGC-specific gene silencing after ONC, although this effect was achieved using the broad spectrum inhibitor, Trichostatin A.<h4>Conclusion</h4>Although other HDACs may be responsible for gene expression changes in RGCs, our results indicate a critical role for HDAC3 in nuclear atrophy in RGC apoptosis following axonal injury. This study provides a framework for studying the roles of other prevalent retinal HDACs in neuronal death as a result of axonal injury.
Project description:<h4>Purpose</h4>Retinal ganglion cell (RGC) death following axonal injury occurring in traumatic optic neuropathy (TON) causes irreversible vision loss. GRP78 is a molecular chaperone that enhances protein folding and controls activation of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress pathways. This study determined whether adeno-associated virus (AAV)-mediated gene transfer of GRP78 protected RGCs from death in a mouse model of TON induced by optic nerve crush (ONC).<h4>Methods</h4>ONC was induced by a transient crush of optic nerve behind the eye globe. AAV was used to deliver genes into retina. Molecules in the ER stress branches, tau oligomers, and RGC injury were determined by immunohistochemistry or Western blot.<h4>Results</h4>Among tested AAV serotypes, AAV2 was the most efficient for delivering genes to RGCs. Intravitreal delivery of AAV2-GRP78 markedly attenuated ER stress and RGC death 3 days after ONC, and significantly improved RGC survival and function 7 days after ONC. Protein aggregation is increased during ER stress and aggregated proteins such as tau oligomers are key players in neurodegenerative diseases. AAV2-GRP78 alleviated ONC-induced increases in tau phosphorylation and oligomerization. Furthermore, tau oligomers directly induced RGC death, and blocking tau oligomers with tau oligomer monoclonal antibody (TOMA) attenuated ONC-induced RGC loss.<h4>Conclusion</h4>These data indicate that the beneficial effect of AAV2-GRP78 is partially mediated by the reduction of misfolded tau, and provide compelling evidence that gene therapy with AAV2-GRP78 or immunotherapy with TOMA offers novel therapeutic approaches to alleviate RGC loss in TON.
Project description:Optic atrophy resulting from retinal ganglion cell (RGC) degeneration is a prominent ocular manifestation of mitochondrial dysfunction. Although transgenic mice lacking the mitochondrial complex I accessory subunit NDUFS4 develop early-onset optic atrophy, severe systemic mitochondrial dysfunction leads to very early death and makes this mouse line impractical for studying the pathobiology of mitochondrial optic neuropathies. Theoretically, RGC-specific inactivation of ndufs4 would allow characterization of RGC degeneration over a longer time course, provided that RGC death from mitochondrial dysfunction is a cell-autonomous process. We demonstrate that the vesicular glutamate transporter VGLUT2 may be exploited to drive robust Cre recombinase expression in RGCs without any expression observed in directly neighboring retinal cell types. Deletion of ndufs4 in RGCs resulted in reduced expression of NDUFS4 protein within the optic nerves of Vglut2-Cre;ndufs4loxP/loxP mice. RGC degeneration in Vglut2-Cre;ndufs4loxP/loxP retinas commenced around postnatal day 45 (P45) and progressed to loss of two-thirds of RGCs by P90, confirming that intrinsic complex I dysfunction is sufficient to induce RGC death. The rapidly-developing optic atrophy makes the Vglut2-Cre;ndufs4loxP/loxP mouse line a promising preclinical model for testing therapies for currently untreatable mitochondrial optic neuropathies such as Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy.
Project description:Optic neuropathies are characterised by a loss of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) that lead to vision impairment. Development of cell therapy requires a better understanding of the signals that direct stem cells into RGCs. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) represent an unlimited cellular source for generation of human RGCs in vitro. In this study, we present a 45-day protocol that utilises magnetic activated cell sorting to generate enriched population of RGCs via stepwise retinal differentiation using hESCs. We performed an extensive characterization of these stem cell-derived RGCs by examining the gene and protein expressions of a panel of neural/RGC markers. Furthermore, whole transcriptome analysis demonstrated similarity of the hESC-derived RGCs to human adult RGCs. The enriched hESC-RGCs possess long axons, functional electrophysiological profiles and axonal transport of mitochondria, suggestive of maturity. In summary, this RGC differentiation protocol can generate an enriched population of functional RGCs from hESCs, allowing future studies on disease modeling of optic neuropathies and development of cell therapies.