In mammals, photoreceptor loss causes permanent blindness, but in zebrafish (Danio rerio), photoreceptor loss reprograms Müller glia to function as stem cells, producing progenitors that regenerate photoreceptors. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) regulate CNS neurogenesis, but the roles of miRNAs in injury-induced neuronal regeneration are largely unknown. In the embryonic zebrafish retina, miR-18a regulates photoreceptor differentiation. The purpose of the current study was to determine, in zebrafish, the function of miR-18a during injury-induced photoreceptor regeneration. RT-qPCR, in situ hybridization, and immunohistochemistry showed that miR-18a expression increases throughout the retina between 1 and 5 days post-injury (dpi). To test miR-18a function during photoreceptor regeneration, we used homozygous miR-18a mutants (miR-18a), and knocked down miR-18a with morpholino oligonucleotides. During photoreceptor regeneration, miR-18a retinas have fewer mature photoreceptors than WT at 7 and 10 dpi, but there is no difference at 14 dpi, indicating that photoreceptor regeneration is delayed. Labeling dividing cells with 5-bromo-2′-deoxyuridine (BrdU) showed that at 7 and 10 dpi, there are excess dividing progenitors in both mutants and morphants, indicating that miR-18a negatively regulates injury-induced proliferation. Tracing 5-ethynyl-2′-deoxyuridine (EdU) and BrdU-labeled cells showed that in miR-18a retinas excess progenitors migrate to other retinal layers in addition to the photoreceptor layer. Inflammation is critical for photoreceptor regeneration, and RT-qPCR showed that in miR-18a retinas, inflammatory gene expression and microglia activation are prolonged. Suppressing inflammation with dexamethasone rescues the miR-18a phenotype. Together, these data show that in the injured zebrafish retina, disruption of miR-18a alters proliferation, inflammation, the microglia/macrophage response, and the timing of photoreceptor regeneration.
© 2022. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.