The cells we are interested in and focus on are called glia cells, more precisely Müller glia. Müller glia are the predominant glia in the neural retina and named after Professor Heinrich Müller (described in 1851). Glia cells per se are known as the support cells in the central nervous system, have a variety of other functions including maintaining the homeostasis of the tissue, but also protection after injury or disease. Glia cells, as part of their protective function, undergo morphological changes to create a barrier and a non-permissive environment for regeneration. This glial response, called gliosis, is a very complex process and includes a variety of factors and mechanisms which are not fully understood.
Molecules known to play in role in Müller glia development and function are microRNAs. microRNAs are small molecules present in every cell of the body that act as translational repressors. That means mRNA (transcribed from DNA) is not translated into protein. About 1000 different microRNAs have been identified so far and it is known that they have a huge impact in development, independent from tissue origin and cell type. However, their expression pattern can vary between different cell types, developmental stages (maturation of a cell), as well as physiological and pathophysiological conditions. For the latter, there is increasing evidence that microRNAs play an important role in various diseases and can be used as a biomarker for certain diseases.
The Role of microRNAs in Retinal Glia Function
In our laboratory we investigate the impact of microRNAs in the different phases of glial activation after injury and/or disease. This will give us a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms of gliosis in order to develop strategies to minimize the inhibitory nature of this process.
The long-term goal is to develop new approaches and therapies to attenuate the glial response after damage which might allow neuroprotection and partial regeneration in the neural retina as part of the central nervous system.