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Morphological and electrophysiological characterization of a novel displaced astrocyte in the mouse retina.

Glia 2024 April 10
Astrocytes throughout the central nervous system are heterogeneous in both structure and function. This diversity leads to tissue-specific specialization where morphology is adapted to the surrounding neuronal circuitry, as seen in Bergman glia of the cerebellum and Müller glia of the retina. Because morphology can be a differentiating factor for cellular classification, we recently developed a mouse where glial-fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP)-expressing cells stochastically label for full membranous morphology. Here we utilize this tool to investigate whether morphological and electrophysiological features separate types of mouse retinal astrocytes. In this work, we report on a novel glial population found in the inner plexiform layer and ganglion cell layer which expresses the canonical astrocyte markers GFAP, S100β, connexin-43, Sox2 and Sox9. Apart from their retinal layer localization, these cells are unique in their radial distribution. They are notably absent from the mid-retina but are heavily concentrated near the optic nerve head, and to a lesser degree the peripheral retina. Additionally, their morphology is distinct from both nerve fiber layer astrocytes and Müller glia, appearing more similar to amacrine cells. Despite this structural similarity, these cells lack protein expression of common neuronal markers. Additionally, they do not exhibit action potentials, but rather resemble astrocytes and Müller glia in their small amplitude, graded depolarization to both light onset and offset. Their structure, protein expression, physiology, and intercellular connections suggest that these cells are astrocytic, displaced from their counterparts in the nerve fiber layer. As such, we refer to these cells as displaced retinal astrocytes.

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