Microglia/macrophage activation is previously reported to be involved in various ocular diseases. However, the separate role of M1/M2 phenotype microglia/macrophage in the pathological process of oxygen-induced retinopathy (OIR) remains unknown. In this research, we explored the role and regulatory mechanism of M1/M2 microglia/macrophage in OIR in C57BL/6J mice. Furthermore, we demonstrated the time phase of M1/M2 shifting of microglia/macrophage during the natural process of OIR, which is very essential for further investigations.
C57BL/6j pups were exposed to hyperoxia environment from postnatal 7(P7) to P12 then returned to normoxia. The mice were then euthanized, and the eyes were harvested at a series of time points for further investigation. The M1/M2 phenotype microglia/macrophage activity was presented by immunofluorescent staining and real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). The NF-κb-STAT3 signaling and IL-4-STAT6-PPAR-γ signaling pathway activity was examined by western blot analysis.
The microglia/macrophage were activated when the OIR model was set up after P12. The M1 microglia/macrophage activation was found in neovascularization (NV) tufts in both central and peripheral retina, which started from P12 when the mice were returned to normoxia environment and peaked at P17. During this period of time, the NF-κb-STAT3 signaling pathway was activated, resulting in the upregulated M1 phenotype microglia/macrophage polarization, along with the enhanced inflammatory cytokine expression including tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and IL-1β. Consequently, the NV tufts were observed from P12 and the volume continued to increase until P17. However, the M2 phenotype microglia/macrophage activity took over during the late phase of OIR started from P17. The IL-4-STAT6-PPAR-γ signaling activity was upregulated from P17 and peaked at P20, inducing M2 phenotype microglia polarization, which consequently led to the inhibition of inflammatory cytokines and spontaneous regression of NV tufts.
Microglia/macrophage participate actively in the natural process of OIR in mice, and two phenotypes exert different functions. Treatment modulating microglia/macrophage polarize toward M2 phenotype might be a novel and promising method for ocular neovascular diseases such as retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), wet age-related macular degeneration (wAMD), and diabetic retinopathy (DR).