In the retina, both neurons and glia differentiate from a common progenitor population. CD44 cell surface antigen is a hyaluronic acid receptor expressed on mature Müller glial cells. We found that in the developing mouse retina, expression of CD44 was transiently observed at or around birth in a subpopulation of c-kit-positive retinal progenitor cells. During in vitro culture, purified CD44/c-kit-positive retinal progenitor cells exclusively differentiated into Müller glial cells and not into neurons, suggesting that CD44 marks a subpopulation of retinal progenitor cells that are fated to become glia. Over-expression of CD44 inhibited the extension of processes by Müller glial cells and neurons. Notch signaling is known to be involved in the specification of retinal progenitors into a glial fate. Activation of Notch signaling increased the number of CD44-positive cells, and treatment with the Notch signal inhibitor, DAPT, at early, but not later, stages of retinal development abolished both CD44-positive cells and Müller glial cells. Together, CD44 was identified as an early cell surface marker of the Müller glia lineage, and Notch signalling was involved in commitment of retinal progenitor cells to CD44 positive Müller glial precursor cells.
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