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The effect of glial fibrillary acidic protein expression on neurite outgrowth from retinal explants in a permissive environment

Kimberly A Toops1, Tracy L Hagemann3, Albee Messing23 and Robert W Nickells14*

Author Affiliations

1 Departments of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, 53706, USA

2 Departments of Comparative Biosciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, 53706, USA

3 The Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, 53706, USA

4 Medical Sciences Center, 1300 University Avenue, Madison, WI, 53706-1532, USA

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:693  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-693

Published: 22 December 2012



Increased expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) within macroglia is commonly seen as a hallmark of glial activation after damage within the central nervous system, including the retina. The increased expression of GFAP in glia is also considered part of the pathologically inhibitory environment for regeneration of axons from damaged neurons. Recent studies have raised the possibility that reactive gliosis and increased GFAP cannot automatically be assumed to be negative events for the surrounding neurons and that the context of the reactive gliosis is critical to whether neurons benefit or suffer. We utilized transgenic mice expressing a range of Gfap to titrate the amount of GFAP in retinal explants to investigate the relationship between GFAP concentration and the regenerative potential of retinal ganglion cells.


Explants from Gfap-/- and Gfap+/- mice did not have increased neurite outgrowth compared with Gfap+/+ or Gfap over-expressing mice as would be expected if GFAP was detrimental to axon regeneration. In fact, Gfap over-expressing explants had the most neurite outgrowth when treated with a neurite stimulatory media. Transmission electron microscopy revealed that neurites formed bundles, which were surrounded by larger cellular processes that were GFAP positive indicating a close association between growing axons and glial cells in this regeneration paradigm.


We postulate that glial cells with increased Gfap expression support the elongation of new neurites from retinal ganglion cells possibly by providing a scaffold for outgrowth.

Glial fibrillary acidic protein; Axon regeneration; Retinal ganglion cell