Ultrastructural and immunocytochemical changes in retinal pigment epithelium, retinal glia, and fibroblasts in vitreous culture

S. A. Vinores, P. A. Campochiaro, R. McGehee, W. Orman, S. F. Hackett, L. M. Hjelmeland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells, retinal glia, and fibroblasts, three cell types believed to play a role in the pathogenesis of epiretinal membrane formation, were maintained in vitreous culture to determine the influence of vitreous on their ultrastructure and expression of cytokeratin, glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), vimentin, and glutamine synthetase (GS). Using a highly sensitive, preembedding technique for the immunolocalization of these antigens at the ultrastructural level, most RPE cells were found to lose cytokeratin and vimentin within 1 day after seeding on irradiated vitreous. The percentage of keratin-positive cells then increased with time in culture. If the vitreous was placed on RPE cells cultured in monolayer instead of placing the cells on the vitreous, keratin and vimentin were expressed in a high percentage of cells that migrated into the gel at 2 days, and the percentage of cells expressing these intermediate filament proteins diminished with time. Glutamine synthetase was found in RPE cells grown in monolayer with or without a vitreous overlay, but not in RPE cells grown on the surface of vitreous. Retinal glia grown on vitreous showed a time-dependent decrease in the number of cells expressing GFAP and a corresponding increase in cells expressing vimentin or GS. Some fibroblasts in vitreous culture expressed vimentin but not the other antigens evaluated. A substantial number of cells in each culture did not stain positively for cytokeratin, GFAP, vimentin, or GS. All three cell types showed phenotypic diversity at the ultrastructural level with each cell type being capable of assuming the same morphologic appearance under certain conditions. These results demonstrate the phenotypic plasticity of RPE cells, retinal glia, and fibroblasts when grown in contact with vitreous and provide further evidence that neither ultrastructure, intermediate filament protein expression, nor the presence of GS, is sufficient to determine the cell type of origin of cells in epiretinal membranes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2529-2545
Number of pages17
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 1990
Externally publishedYes


  • glia
  • glutamine synthetase
  • intermediate filament proteins
  • retinal pigment epithelium
  • vitreous culture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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