August 1997
Volume 38, Issue 9
Articles  |   August 1997
Role of astrocytes in the control of developing retinal vessels.
Author Affiliations
  • Y Zhang
    Department of Anatomy and Histology, New South Wales Retinal Dystrophy Research Centre, Australia.
  • J Stone
    Department of Anatomy and Histology, New South Wales Retinal Dystrophy Research Centre, Australia.
Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science August 1997, Vol.38, 1653-1666. doi:
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      Y Zhang, J Stone; Role of astrocytes in the control of developing retinal vessels.. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 1997;38(9):1653-1666.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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PURPOSE: To assess the role of astrocytes in controlling the growth of developing retinal vessels. METHODS: Growth of retinal vessels in the neonatal rat retina was examined in three conditions: normal development, cyclic hyperoxia, and normoxia (1 day 70% to 75% oxygen, 1 day room air for up to seven cycles from birth, and room air for up to 16 days), and direct hypoxia (10% oxygen from postnatal day 3 [P3]). Retinas were examined as wholemounts labeled for astrocytes, microglia, and blood vessels and in some experiments for the fragmentation of DNA characteristic of apoptosis. RESULTS: In normoxia, superficial retinal vessels formed to the processes of astrocytes. In cyclic hyperoxia, the depletion of superficial retinal vessels and subsequent neovascularization described by others were confirmed. The neovascularization was preceded by the depletion by apoptotic death of the astrocyte population, first between vessels but eventually breaching the glia limitans along vessels. The earliest forms of neovascularization resembled microaneurysms, each protruding through a defect in the glia limitans of a capillary. Neurons of the ganglion cell layer survived. Direct hypoxia from P3 caused hypertrophy of superficial vessels. Between P3 and P6, some vessels accelerated past the still-spreading astrocytes, often growing out of the retina into the vitreous humor. Direct hypoxia also caused astrocyte degeneration, but capillaries retained astrocyte investment and were not the site of vascular damage. By P8, breaches in the astrocytic glia limitans became prominent but were restricted to large veins. At such breaches, bleeding into the vitreous humor was common. CONCLUSIONS: Retinal vessels normally develop in close association with astrocytes. Where that association is broken, preretinal vessels may grow or bleed into the vitreous humor. Astrocytes play important roles in constraining retinal vessels to the retina and in maintaining their integrity.


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