• Label-free adaptive optics imaging of human retinal macrophage distribution and dynamics

      Hammer, D.X.; Agrawal, A.; Villanueva, R.; Saeedi, O.; Liu, Z. (National Academy of Sciences, 2020-11-09)
      Microglia are resident central nervous system macrophages and the first responders to neural injury. Until recently, microglia have been studied only in animal models with exogenous or transgenic labeling. While these studies provided a wealth of information on the delicate balance between neuroprotection and neurotoxicity within which these cells operate, extrapolation to human immune function has remained an open question. Here we examine key characteristics of retinal macrophage cells in live human eyes, both healthy and diseased, with the unique capabilities of our adaptive optics-optical coherence tomography approach and owing to their propitious location above the inner limiting membrane (ILM), allowing direct visualization of cells. Our findings indicate that human ILM macrophage cells may be distributed distinctly, age differently, and have different dynamic characteristics than microglia in other animals. For example, we observed a macular pattern that was sparse centrally and peaked peripherally in healthy human eyes. Moreover, human ILM macrophage density decreased with age (?2% of cells per year). Our results in glaucomatous eyes also indicate that ILM macrophage cells appear to play an early and regionally specific role of nerve fiber layer phagocytosis in areas of active disease. While we investigate ILM macrophage cells distinct from the larger sample of overall retinal microglia, the ability to visualize macrophage cells without fluorescent labeling in the live human eye represents an important advance for both ophthalmology and neuroscience, which may lead to novel disease biomarkers and new avenues of exploration in disease progression. Copyright 2020 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.