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Prog Retin Eye Res. 2003 Jul;22(4):483-543.

Molecular determinants of retinal ganglion cell development, survival, and regeneration.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, University of Tübingen, Hoppe-Seyler Strasse 3, Tübingen D-72076, Germany.


The retina is an easily accessible part of the CNS with a well-defined cytological architecture. It allows for detailed study of the regulation of neurogenesis, determinants of cell fate specification, and signals for cell survival versus programmed cellular death during development. Within the retina, retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are the only neurons connecting to the brain. Their axonal projection to the midbrain targets, the superior colliculus (SC), and the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) has been subject of a number of investigations, and led to the identification of molecular signals directing topographic information for precise wiring during development. Transcription factors, guidance molecules, extracellular matrix proteins, neurotrophic factors, and cell death-regulating factors of the Bcl-2 family and caspases, have all been reported to be involved in the processes of formation of a precise retino-collicular map, and regulation of developmental cell death.During adulthood, RGCs and their projection have to be maintained, since-to our current knowledge-they cannot be replaced following injury. On the other hand, insults of various kinds can be potentially hazardous to RGCs. Therefore, much work has been directed towards understanding of the molecular regulation of RGC degeneration following insults such as retinal ischaemia, axonal lesion, or in optic neuropathy. Experimental strategies are being devised towards protection of lesioned RGCs. Since following axonal lesion, these cells not only need to survive, but also have to reconnect in order to be functionally relevant, efforts are directed towards not only survival, but also axonal regeneration and proper rewiring of injured RGCs. This paper reviews the molecular determinants of RGC fate determination and the development of the retino-tectal projection. We summarize what is known (and hypothesized) on the determinants of RGC survival during normal adulthood, and the mechanisms of RGC degeneration in the injured retina. We also try to develop perspectives towards neuroprotection and regeneration of adult lesioned RGCs that may be applicable to lesioned CNS neurons in vertebrates in a broader sense.

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