The agonistic TSPO ligand XBD173 attenuates the glial response thereby protecting inner retinal neurons in a murine model of retinal ischemia

Kristin Mages, Felix Grassmann, Herbert Jägle, Rainer Rupprecht, Bernhard H.F. Weber, Stefanie M. Hauck, Antje Grosche*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Ligand-driven modulation of the mitochondrial translocator protein 18 kDa (TSPO) was recently described to dampen the neuroinflammatory response of microglia in a retinal light damage model resulting in protective effects on photoreceptors. We characterized the effects of the TSPO ligand XBD173 in the postischemic retina focusing on changes in the response pattern of the major glial cell types of the retina-microglia and Müller cells. Methods: Retinal ischemia was induced by increasing the intraocular pressure for 60 min followed by reperfusion of the tissue in mice. On retinal cell types enriched via immunomagnetic separation expression analysis of TSPO, its ligand diazepam-binding inhibitor (DBI) and markers of glial activation were performed at transcript and protein level using RNA sequencing, qRT-PCR, lipid chromatography-mass spectrometry, and immunofluorescent labeling. Data on cell morphology and numbers were assessed in retinal slice and flatmount preparations. The retinal functional integrity was determined by electroretinogram recordings. Results: We demonstrate that TSPO is expressed by Müller cells, microglia, vascular cells, retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) of the healthy and postischemic retina, but only at low levels in retinal neurons. While an alleviated neurodegeneration upon XBD173 treatment was found in postischemic retinae as compared to vehicle controls, this neuroprotective effect of XBD173 is mediated putatively by its action on retinal glia. After transient ischemia, TSPO as a marker of activation was upregulated to similar levels in microglia as compared to their counterparts in healthy retinae irrespective of the treatment regimen. However, less microglia were found in XBD173-treated postischemic retinae at 3 days post-surgery (dps) which displayed a more ramified morphology than in retinae of vehicle-treated mice indicating a dampened microglia activation. Müller cells, the major retinal macroglia, show upregulation of the typical gliosis marker GFAP. Importantly, glutamine synthetase was more stably expressed in Müller glia of XBD173-treated postischemic retinae and homeostatic functions such as cellular volume regulation typically diminished in gliotic Müller cells remained functional. Conclusions: In sum, our data imply that beneficial effects of XBD173 treatment on the postischemic survival of inner retinal neurons were primarily mediated by stabilizing neurosupportive functions of glial cells.

Original languageEnglish
Article number43
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Neuroinflammation
Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2019


  • Gliosis
  • Ischemia
  • Microglia
  • Müller cell
  • Retina
  • TSPO


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