Human Retinal Development in an in situ Whole Eye Culture System.
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Phenotypic characterization of human retinogenesis may be facilitated by use of the tissue culture system paradigm. Traditionally, most culture protocols involve isolation of retinal tissue and/or cells, imposing various degrees of trauma, which in many cases leads to abnormal development. In this paper, we present a novel culture technique using whole embryonic eyes to investigate whether the retina in situ can develop normally in vitro. All procedures were carried out in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. Human embryos were obtained from elective abortions with the informed consent of the women seeking abortion. A total of 19 eyes were enucleated. The ages of the embryonic retinas were 6-7.5 weeks. Eyecups from 2 eyes were fixed immediately, to be used as controls. The remaining 17 eyes were placed on culture plates and divided into 3 groups kept for 7 (n = 4), 14 (n = 7) and 28 (n = 6) days in vitro (DIV). After fixation, the specimens were processed for hematoxylin and eosin staining, immunohistochemistry and terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick end labeling (TUNEL). Antibodies against recoverin (rods and cones), protein kinase C (PKC; rod bipolar cells) and vimentin (Müller cells) were used. TUNEL was used to detect apoptotic cells. In hematoxylin- and eosin-stained sections, the control retinas displayed a neuroblast cell layer (NBL) and an inner marginal zone. Specimens kept 7-14 DIV had a similar appearance, while 28-day specimens consisted of an NBL with almost no marginal zone. Thirteen of the 17 cultured retinas displayed completely normal lamination without rosettes or double folds. Pyknotic cells were found at the inner margin of the retinas, and the proportion of these cells increased with time in vitro. TUNEL staining revealed a few scattered cells in 7-DIV specimens, and the amount of stained cells in the inner part of the retinas progressively increased in 14- and 28-DIV specimens. Vimentin labeling showed cells arranged in a vertical pattern in all retinas. Labeling with recoverin revealed photoreceptors in 4 of the retinas kept for 14 DIV, and in all retinas kept for 28 DIV. After 28 DIV, 2 of the eyes labeled with PKC contained rod bipolar cells with minimal axons. Here we showed that human embryonic retinas can be kept in culture in situ within the eye for at least 4 weeks. Abnormal lamination is not as frequent as in isolated full-thickness retinas, indicating that physical and biochemical contact with surrounding tissues is vital for proper development. Several types of the retina-specific neuronal and glial cells were seen to differentiate according to the in vivo schedule. The results are important for future studies of retinal development, and the technique can also be used for testing the effects of various drugs on the immature retina.