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Stem Cells Dev. 2014 May 1;23(9):941-54. doi: 10.1089/scd.2013.0471. Epub 2014 Feb 18.

Migration, integration and maturation of photoreceptor precursors following transplantation in the mouse retina.

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1 Department of Genetics, University College London Institute of Ophthalmology , London, United Kingdom .


Retinal degeneration leading to loss of photoreceptors is a major cause of untreatable blindness. Recent research has yielded definitive evidence for restoration of vision following the transplantation of rod photoreceptors in murine models of blindness, while advances in stem cell biology have enabled the generation of transplantable photoreceptors from embryonic stem cells. Importantly, the amount of visual function restored is dependent upon the number of photoreceptors that migrate correctly into the recipient retina. The developmental stage of the donor cells is important for their ability to migrate; they must be immature photoreceptor precursors. Little is known about how and when donor cell migration, integration, and maturation occurs. Here, we have performed a comprehensive histological analysis of the 6-week period following rod transplantation in mice. Donor cells migrate predominately as single entities during the first week undergoing a stereotyped sequence of morphological changes in their translocation from the site of transplantation, through the interphotoreceptor matrix and into the recipient retina. This includes initial polarization toward the outer nuclear layer (ONL), followed by formation of an apical attachment and rudimentary segment during migration into the ONL. Strikingly, acquisition of a nuclear architecture typical of mature rods was accelerated compared with normal development and a feature of migrating cells. Once within the ONL, precursors formed synaptic-like structures and outer segments in accordance with normal maturation. The restoration of visual function mediated by transplanted photoreceptors correlated with the later expression of rod α-transducin, achieving maximal function by 5 weeks.

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