Scientific reports

Fractalkine-CX3CR1 signaling is critical for progesterone-mediated neuroprotection in the retina.

PMID 28216676


Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) encompasses a group of retinal diseases resulting in photoreceptor loss and blindness. We have previously shown in the rd10 mouse model of RP, that rd10 microglia drive degeneration of viable neurons. Norgestrel, a progesterone analogue, primes viable neurons against potential microglial damage. In the current study we wished to investigate this neuroprotective effect further. We were particularly interested in the role of fractalkine-CX3CR1 signaling, previously shown to mediate photoreceptor-microglia crosstalk and promote survival in the rd10 retina. Norgestrel upregulates fractalkine-CX3CR1 signaling in the rd10 retina, coinciding with photoreceptor survival. We show that Norgestrel-treated photoreceptor-like cells, 661Ws, and C57 explants modulate rd10 microglial activity in co-culture, resulting in increased photoreceptor survival. Assessment of Norgestrel's neuroprotective effects when fractalkine was knocked-down in 661 W cells and release of fractalkine was reduced in rd10 explants confirms a crucial role for fractalkine-CX3CR1 signaling in Norgestrel-mediated neuroprotection. To further understand the role of fractalkine in neuroprotection, we assessed the release of 40 cytokines in fractalkine-treated rd10 microglia and explants. In both cases, treatment with fractalkine reduced a variety of pro-inflammatory cytokines. These findings further our understanding of Norgestrel's neuroprotective properties, capable of modulating harmful microglial activity indirectly through photoreceptors, leading to increased neuroprotection.