Time-lapse retinal ganglion cell dendritic field degeneration imaged in organotypic retinal explant culture

Thomas V. Johnson, Ericka N. Oglesby, Matthew R. Steinhart, Elizabeth Cone-Kimball, Joan Jefferys, Harry A. Quigley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


PURPOSE. To develop an ex vivo organotypic retinal explant culture system suitable for multiple time-point imaging of retinal ganglion cell (RGC) dendritic arbors over a period of 1 week, and capable of detecting dendrite neuroprotection conferred by experimental treatments. METHODS. Thy1-YFP mouse retinas were explanted and maintained in organotypic culture. Retinal ganglion cell dendritic arbors were imaged repeatedly using confocal laser scanning microscopy. Maximal projection z-stacks were traced by two masked investigators and dendritic fields were analyzed for characteristics including branch number, size, and complexity. One group of explants was treated with brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) added to the culture media. Changes in individual dendritic fields over time were detected using pair-wise comparison testing. RESULTS. Retinal ganglion cells in mouse retinal explant culture began to degenerate after 3 days with 52.4% surviving at 7 days. Dendritic field parameters showed minimal change over 8 hours in culture. Intra- and interobserver measurements of dendrite characteristics were strongly correlated (Spearman rank correlations consistently > 0.80). Statistically significant (P < 0.001) dendritic tree degeneration was detected following 7 days in culture including: 40% to 50% decreases in number of branch segments, number of junctions, number of terminal branches, and total branch length. Scholl analyses similarly demonstrated a significant decrease in dendritic field complexity. Treatment of explants with BDNF+CNTF significantly attenuated dendritic field degeneration. CONCLUSIONS. Retinal explant culture of Thy1-YFP tissue provides a useful model for time-lapse imaging of RGC dendritic field degeneration over a course of several days, and is capable of detecting neuroprotective amelioration of dendritic pruning within individual RGCs

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-264
Number of pages12
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2016


  • Confocal imaging
  • Dendrite
  • Glaucoma
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Organotypic culture
  • Retinal ganglion cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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