The nervous and vascular systems, although functionally different, share many common regulators of function maintenance. Long non‐coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are important players in many biological processes and human disorders. We previously identified a role of MALAT1 in microvascular dysfunction. However, its role in neurodegeneration is still unknown. Here, we used the eye as the model to investigate the role of MALAT1 in retinal neurodegeneration. We show that MALAT1 expression is significantly up‐regulated in the retinas, Müller cells, and primary retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) upon stress. MALAT1 knockdown reduces reactive gliosis, Müller cell activation, and RGC survival in vivo and in vitro. MALAT1‐CREB binding maintains CREB phosphorylation by inhibiting PP2A‐mediated dephosphorylation, which leads to continuous CREB signaling activation. Clinical and animal experimentation suggests that MALAT1 dysfunction is implicated in neurodegenerative processes and several human disorders. Collectively, this study reveals that MALAT1 might regulate the development of retinal neurodegeneration through CREB signaling.
Long non‐coding RNA MALAT1 knockdown decreases retinal reactive gliosis, Müller cell activation, and RGC survival via interactions with CREB signaling.
MALAT1 expression is up‐regulated in retinas, Müller cells, and primary retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) under stress.
MALAT1 knockdown decreases reactive gliosis, Müller cell activation, and RGC survival in vivo and in vitro.
MALAT1 interacts with the CREB signaling pathway to regulate Müller cell and RGC function.
MALAT1 dysregulation is implicated in several human neurological diseases.
The eye is known as an extension of the brain. It displays many similarities to the brain in terms of anatomy, functionality, stress response, and immunology (London et al, 2013). Several neurodegenerative changes in the brain have similar manifestations in the eye (Kerrison et al, 1994; Berisha et al, 2007; Baker et al, 2008). Thus, understanding the mechanism of neurodegeneration in eye would provide new insights into the mechanism of neurodegeneration in the brain and provide novel therapeutic targets for central nervous system (CNS) diseases.
Long non‐coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are non‐coding transcripts > 200 nucleotides. They regulate gene expression at transcriptional, epigenetic, or translational levels, thereby altering cellular responses to various stresses (Esteller, 2011; Wapinski & Chang, 2011). Aberrant lncRNA expression is implicated in several human diseases, such as tumorigenesis, neurological diseases, and cardiovascular diseases (Qureshi et al, 2010). Nervous system development, homeostasis, stress response, and plasticity are regulated by complicated gene network (Qureshi & Mehler, 2012). Given the importance of lncRNAs in gene expression regulation, we speculated that aberrant lncRNA expression might be involved in the pathogenesis of neurological diseases.
Metastasis‐associated lung adenocarcinoma transcript 1 (MALAT1), a long non‐coding RNA, is up‐regulated in many solid tumors and associated with cancer metastasis and recurrence (Gutschner et al, 2013). The role of MALAT1 in nervous system has been gradually recognized. In neurons, MALAT1 regulates gene expression involved in nuclear and synapse function and synaptogenesis (Bernard et al, 2010). MALAT1 is significantly up‐regulated in the cerebellum, hippocampus, and brain stem of human alcoholics (Kryger et al, 2012). We reveal that MALAT1 is involved in diabetes‐induced retinal microvascular dysfunction (Liu et al, 2014). Blood vessels and nerves are two important channels in vivo and usually share common signaling regulators of differentiation, growth, and navigation (Zacchigna et al, 2007). We speculated that MALAT1 was a potential regulator of retinal neurodegeneration. In this study, we determined the expression pattern of MALAT1 and defined its role in retinal neurodegeneration.
In vivo and in vitro expression pattern of lncRNA MALAT1 in different stress conditions
Previous study reveals that MALAT1 expression levels are significantly up‐regulated in the diabetic retinas of mice and rats (Liu et al, 2014). Here, we investigated the expression pattern of MALAT1 in the retinas of optic nerve transection (ONT) rat and mouse models. We found that MALAT1 expression levels were significantly up‐regulated in the retinas of ONT rats and mice (Fig 1A). We also determined whether MALAT1 expression was altered in cultured retinal Müller cells and primary retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) under stress conditions. Hypoxia, high glucose, H2O2, and excitatory toxicity of glutamate treatment increased MALAT1 expression levels in both Müller cells and RGCs (Fig 1B and C). Collectively, these results show that MALAT1 expression is affected upon stress in vivo and in vitro.
We then employed RNA fluorescence in situ hybridization (RNA‐FISH) experiments to detect MALAT1 expression distribution in vivo. MALAT1 expression was detected in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) layer, outer nuclear layer, inner nuclear layer, and ganglion cell layer in rat, mouse, and human retinas (Fig 1D). Higher MALAT1 levels were detected in the diabetic retinas and ONT retinas compared with the corresponding controls (Fig 1D). Moreover, we found that MALAT1 was expressed in multiple retinal cells, including RPE, primary RGCs, Müller cells, and RF/6A cells (Liu et al, 2014). Notably, MALAT1 was located in the nuclei of these cells (Fig 1E).
MALAT1 knockdown affects retinal reactive gliosis and RGC survival
To reveal the role of MALAT1 in retinal neurodegeneration, an intravitreal injection of scrambled shRNA or MALAT1 shRNA adenovirus was performed in ONT mice. We previously designed three different shRNAs for MALAT1. All of them could obviously reduce MALAT1 expression levels (Appendix Fig S1). We used MALAT1 shRNA1 for the subsequent study due to its greatest gene knockdown efficiency. MALAT1 shRNA injection specially reduced MALAT1 but not other lncRNAs expression (Appendix Fig S1). MALAT1 shRNA injection also significantly reduced MALAT1 expression throughout the experiment (Fig 2A).
RGC degeneration and reactive gliosis are two important features of retinal neurodegeneration (Barreto et al, 2011). We performed protein immunolabeling experiments to determine the effect of MALAT1 knockdown on retinal neurodegeneration. ONT significantly increased reactive gliosis as shown by increased vimentin and GFAP staining, whereas MALAT1 knockdown reversed this trend (Fig 2B). ONT caused a marked decrease in RGC number as shown by decreased NeuN and TUBB3 (markers of RGCs) staining. MALAT1 knockdown further decreased the number of NeuN‐ or TUBB3‐positive RGCs (Fig 2B). Retinal slices were also immunolabeled with the marker proteins, including calretinin (ganglion cells and amacrine cells), calbindin (ganglion cells, amacrine, and horizontal cells), rhodopsin (Rod and cone photoreceptor), and protein kinase Cα (PKCα; bipolar cells). Compared with ONT retinas, MALAT1 knockdown further decreased the number of calretinin‐labeled cells in the GCL, but did not further affect the number of calretinin‐labeled cells in the INL (Appendix Fig S2). MALAT1 knockdown further decreased the number of calbindin‐labeled cells in the GCL, but did not further affect the number of calbindin‐labeled horizontal and amacrine cells (Appendix Fig S2). Rhodopsin and PKCα immunolabeling revealed that MALAT1 knockdown had no effect on photoreceptors and bipolar cells (Appendix Fig S2). Moreover, Western blots revealed that MALAT1 knockdown reduced vimentin, GFAP, NeuN, and TUBB3 expression levels (Appendix Fig S3). Collectively, these results indicate that MALAT1 knockdown affects retinal reactive gliosis and RGC survival.
Retinal neurodegeneration is also implicated in the pathogenesis of diabetic retinopathy. We observed a similar scenario in diabetic rat retinas as shown in ONT retinas. MALAT1 knockdown affected reactive gliosis and RGC survival, but had a minor effect on the number of horizontal cells, amacrine cells, photoreceptors, and bipolar cells (Appendix Figs S4 and S5). Western blots also showed that MALAT1 knockdown reduced vimentin, GFAP, NeuN, and TUBB3 expression levels in the retinas of diabetic rats (Appendix Fig S6).
MALAT1 knockdown affects Müller glia activation in vivo
Müller glia is the major glial component of the retina. Its activation protects the retina from a wide variety of pathological stimuli such as trauma, ischemia, and degeneration via releasing neurotrophic factors (Barres, 2008; Mamczur et al, 2015). We found that MALAT1 knockdown reduced the expression of neurotrophic factors, including GDNF, NT‐4, BDNF, and NGF in the ONT retinas (Fig 3A), and reduced the expression of neurotrophic factors, including GDNF, CNTF, and BDNF in the diabetic retinas (Appendix Fig S7).
Müller glia has the capability to dedifferentiate and reenter the proliferation cycle under the stress condition (Pekny & Nilsson, 2005; Bringmann et al, 2009). We also examined whether MALAT1 knockdown affected the regenerative ability of Müller cells. We labeled proliferating retinal cells using BrdU reagent. Intravitreous injection of MALAT1 shRNA significantly reduced the number of BrdU‐labeled cells in the ONT and diabetic retinas. Moreover, BrdU‐labeled staining cells were overlapped with glutamine synthetase (GS) staining, suggesting that MALAT1 knockdown affects Müller glia proliferation (Fig 3B and Appendix Fig S7).
The reactivation of stem and progenitor properties of glial cells also promoted us to determine the effect of MALAT1 knockdown on the expression of progenitor markers, such as nestin and vimentin. Immunofluorescent staining and Western blots showed that MALAT1 knockdown significantly reduced nestin and vimentin levels in the ONT retinas (Fig 3C and D, and Appendix Fig S8). We also observed that MALAT1 knockdown decreased nestin and vimentin expression in the diabetic retinas (Appendix Figs S7 and S8).
MALAT1 knockdown regulates Müller cell function in vitro
The above‐mentioned results showed that MALAT1 mainly acted on Müller cells and RGCs. We then studied the mechanistic aspects and functional significance of MALAT1 alteration in vitro. We designed two different MALAT1 siRNAs and revealed that MALAT1 siRNA transfection significantly reduced MALAT1 levels in Müller cells (Appendix Fig S9). We selected one MALAT1 siRNA with greater silencing efficiency for the subsequent experiments. Müller cells were treated with H2O2 to mimic oxidative stress. MTT assays showed that H2O2 treatment significantly decreased Müller cell viability. MALAT1 knockdown further decreased Müller cell viability (Fig 4A). We then determined whether MALAT1 regulates the development of H2O2‐induced apoptosis using Hoechst 33342, Calcein‐AM/PI, and JC‐1 staining. The combination of MALAT1 knockdown and H2O2 treatment resulted in higher apoptotic percentage than H2O2 treatment alone, as shown by increased apoptotic nuclei (condensed or fragmented) (Fig 4B), more PI‐positive cells (dying or dead cells) (Fig 4C), and decreased mitochondrial depolarization (Fig 4D). MALAT1 knockdown accelerated the shift of fluorescence emission from green to red (Fig 4E). Ki67 staining showed that MALAT1 knockdown significantly reduced Müller cell proliferation (Fig 4F). MALAT1 knockdown also reduced Müller cell viability, accelerated cell apoptosis, and suppressed cell proliferation in response to hypoxia stress and excitatory toxicity of glutamate (Appendix Figs S10 and S11). Müller cells are usually activated against pathogenic stimuli. GFAP up‐regulation is the most sensitive response upon stress (Bringmann et al, 2009). We found that MALAT1 knockdown significantly inhibited GFAP up‐regulation upon high glucose and oxidative stress (Appendix Fig S12), suggesting a critical role of MALAT1 in Müller glia activation in vitro. Collectively, these results suggest that MALAT1 regulates Müller cell function in vitro.
Direct and indirect effect of MALAT1 on RGC protection in vitro
Since FISH experiment showed that MALAT1 was also expressed in RGCs, we thus investigated whether MALAT1 alteration affected RGC function. MALAT1 shRNA transfection significantly reduced MALAT1 levels in the primary RGCs (Appendix Fig S13). H2O2 treatment significantly reduced the viability of RGCs. MALAT1 knockdown further reduced RGC viability (Fig 5A). The combination of MALAT1 knockdown and H2O2 treatment resulted in higher apoptotic percentage than H2O2 treatment alone (Fig 5B–E). Ki67 staining showed that MALAT1 knockdown significantly decreased RGC proliferation (Fig 5F). MALAT1 also regulated RGC viability, apoptosis development, and cell proliferation in response to hypoxia stress (Appendix Fig S14) and excitatory toxicity of glutamate stress (Appendix Fig S15). These results suggest that MALAT1 is an important regulator of RGC function in vitro.
We also employed in vitro neuron‐Müller co‐culture system to investigate whether MALAT1 knockdown in Müller cells has an indirect effect on RGC function. PI staining revealed that H2O2 or glutamate treatment increased the number of apoptotic RGCs. Müller cell co‐culture significantly decreased the number of apoptotic RGCs, while MALAT1 knockdown in Müller cells obviously attenuated this protective effect. Exogenous BDNF or GDNF administration could eliminate the adverse effect of MALAT1 knockdown (Fig 5G and Appendix Fig S16).
Taken together, the above‐mentioned data show that MALAT1 knockdown has a direct and indirect effect on RGC function in vitro.
MALAT1 regulates Müller and RGC function through CREB signaling
To identify the underlying mechanism by which MALAT1 regulates cell function, we performed pull‐down assays with biotinylated MALAT1, followed by mass spectrometry (MS) to identify MALAT1‐interacting proteins. Cyclic AMP response element (CRE)‐binding protein (CREB), a transcription factor that regulates cell proliferation, was identified as a MALAT1‐interacting protein (Shaywitz & Greenberg, 1999). MALAT1–CREB interaction was also confirmed by independent immunoblot (Fig 6A). Moreover, RIP experiment also verified MALAT1–CREB interaction (Fig 6B). FISH followed immunofluorescence revealed the co‐localization between MALAT1 and CREB in Müller cells (Fig 6C). SB203580, a pharmacological inhibitor of p38/CREB signaling (Che et al, 2012), attenuated MALAT1–CREB interaction in a dose‐dependent manner (Fig 6D). We also found that CREB knockdown impaired Müller cell viability and cell proliferation in a manner similar to MALAT1 knockdown, whereas CREB overexpression could rescue the effect of MALAT1 knockdown. MALAT1 overexpression‐induced abnormal cell viability and hyper‐proliferation was interrupted when CREB signaling was inhibited (Fig 6E and F).
Mass spectrometric analysis of CREB‐interacting proteins affected by MALAT1 led us to focus on PP2A, a protein tyrosine phosphatase and a negative regulator of CREB signaling (Wadzinski et al, 1993). Coimmunoprecipitation experiments showed that MALAT1 knockdown potentiated PP2A–CREB interaction, whereas MALAT1 overexpression attenuated PP2A–CREB interaction in Müller cells (Appendix Fig S17). CREB continuous activation usually attenuates via the dephosphorylation by phosphatases PP‐1 (Hagiwara et al, 1992) and PP‐2A (Wadzinski et al, 1993). We also determined the effect of MALAT1 intervention on PP‐1–CREB interaction (Appendix Fig S17). The result showed that neither MALAT1 knockdown nor its overexpression affected PP‐1–CREB interaction in Müller cells.
We also investigate whether MALAT1‐mediated CREB signaling involved in regulating RGC function. We found that MALAT1 was abundantly existed in CREB immunoprecipitate. MALAT1 co‐localized with CREB in the primary RGCs. CREB overexpression was able to rescue the effect of MALAT1 knockdown on RGC viability and proliferation. MALAT1 overexpression‐induced abnormal cell viability and hyper‐proliferation were interrupted when CREB signaling was inhibited (Appendix Fig S18). MALAT1 intervention affected CREB–PP2A interaction, but did not affect CREB–PP‐1 interaction in the primary RGCs (Appendix Fig S19).
Taken together, these results show that MALAT1 contributes to CREB signaling activation via blocking CREB dephosphorylation by PP2A.
Biological relevance of MALAT1 knockdown in retinal neurodegeneration
To reveal the biological relevance of MALAT1 knockdown, visual evoked potentials (VEP) were performed to determine the effect of MALAT1 knockdown on visual function. The representative VEP waveforms for each group were shown. Compared with ONT mice, MALAT1 knockdown further increased the latency and reduced the amplitude of VEP, suggesting that MALAT1 knockdown could aggravate visual damage under traumatic condition (Fig 7A). The retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) consists of the unmyelinated axons of RGCs gathered into bundles lying just under the retinal surface. RNFL is damaged in many optic nerve diseases (van Velthoven et al, 2007). Optical coherence tomography (OCT) measurement revealed that traumatic injury decreased RNFL thickness compared with Wt group. MALAT1 knockdown further decreased RNFL thickness (Fig 7B). Degeneration of RGC axons was also detected after traumatic injury. Hematoxylin–eosin (HE) staining revealed that the axons of ONT retinas have more swellings and/or fragmentation. MALAT1 knockdown further aggravated the damage of RGC axons (Fig 7C). Electron microscopy observation showed that RGC axons in MALAT1 knockdown ONT group underwent more serious demyelination and/or cytoskeletal destruction than that in ONT group (Fig 7D). Collectively, these results show that MALAT1 knockdown aggravates retinal neurodegeneration under stress condition.
Clinical relevance of MALAT1 dysregulation in neurological disease
We further investigated whether MALAT1 dysregulation occurs in other neurological diseases. Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by neuropathological changes in the brain. We collected CSF samples from AD patients and the control patients without neurodegenerative diseases. Compared with the control group, lower MALAT1 levels were detected in the CSF of AD patients (Fig 8A, Appendix Table S1). We then determined whether MALAT1 expression is altered in neurological tumors. We found that MALAT1 levels were significantly up‐regulated in glioma tissues compared with the peritumoral tissues (Fig 8B, Appendix Table S2). Primary open‐angle glaucoma (POAG) is an optic neuropathy characterized by progressive degeneration of retinal ganglion cells and their axons. MALAT1 levels were found to be significantly down‐regulated in the aqueous humor from the patients with POAG (Fig 8C, Appendix Table S3). Collectively, these results show that MALAT1 dysregulation occurs in neurodegenerative and neuro‐oncological disorders.
The mammalian genome transcribes numerous lncRNAs, and only a small part of lncRNAs have been functionally characterized (Johnsson & Morris, 2014). LncRNA dysregulation is implicated in the pathogenesis of neurodevelopmental, neurodegenerative, and neuroimmunological disorders (Qureshi et al, 2010; Pastori & Wahlestedt, 2012). In this study, we show that MALAT1 expression levels are significantly up‐regulated in the retinas, Müller cells, and retinal ganglion cells upon stress. MALAT1 knockdown decreases Müller cell activation and reduces RGC survival in vivo and in vitro. The role of MALAT1 in retinal neurodegeneration is mainly mediated by CREB signaling.
Oxidative stress, hypoxia stress, and glutamate excitotoxicity are important pathophysiological factors leading to ocular diseases, such as retinal neurodegeneration, ischemia, and glaucoma (Maher & Hanneken, 2005; Almasieh et al, 2012). Stress‐induced MALAT1 up‐regulation is emerging as a protective and compensatory response to combat against these stresses. MALAT1 knockdown decreases the viability and proliferation of RGCs and Müller cells in vitro and decreases retinal reactive gliosis and RGC survival in vivo. Müller activation is recognized as a beneficial event at the early stage of retinal injury. Müller glia may be persuaded to adopt characteristics of retinal progenitors for repair (Goldman, 2014). In addition, Müller glia might generate neurons to participate in repair under appropriate condition (Singhal et al, 2012). Müller glia express genes that are associated with retinal progenitor cells. MALAT1 knockdown affects the expression of progenitor markers. RGC degeneration usually occurs in several ocular diseases (Mamczur et al, 2015). MALAT1 knockdown could further directly and indirectly affects RGC survival. Photoreceptor degeneration also occurs in the diabetic retinas (Park et al, 2003). However, MALAT1 knockdown has no effect on photoreceptor degeneration (Rhodopsine expression), suggesting that MALAT1‐mediated signal transduction is specific for Müller glia and RGC function. It is possible that the protective effect of MALAT1 on photoreceptor is small or occurs at the undetected time points. It cannot rule out the possibility that MALAT1 exerts a protective effect on photoreceptors in other experimental models.
Müller glia cells greatly outnumber neurons in the retina and have intimate relationships of neurons. They assume an active role in modulating neuronal activity (Edenfeld et al, 2005). Müller glia contribute to a great number of functions of neurons, including synapse formation and plasticity, energetic, and redox metabolism, and homeostasis of neurotransmitters and ions. Alteration of neuron–glia interaction is tightly associated with the development of neurodegenerative diseases (Salmina, 2008). We show that H2O2 or glutamate treatment increases the number of apoptotic RGCs. Müller cells co‐culture decreases the number of apoptotic RGCs, while MALAT1 knockdown in Müller cells obviously attenuates this protective effect. Thus, MALAT1‐mediated signaling is involved in neuron–glia interaction, and its dysregulation would affect the development of retinal neurodegeneration.
Reactive Müller cells protect the retina from further damage and preserve retina function through releasing neurotrophic factors (Bringmann et al, 2009; Sofroniew, 2009). We show that MALAT1 knockdown affects the release of neurotrophic factors in the retinas. Neurotrophic factors usually regulate cell survival by two different transmembrane glycoproteins, Trk tyrosine kinase receptors (TrkA, TrkB, and TrkC), and neurotrophin receptor p75 (p75NTR). p75NTR is a transmembrane receptor for neurotrophic factors, including NGF, BDNF, NT‐3, and NT‐4, which activates an intracellular pathway similar to that activated by death receptors, such as tumor necrosis factor and Fas receptors. Neurotrophins also act in neural cell survival by activating Trk tyrosine kinases, leading to the activation of mitogen‐activated protein (MAP) kinases (Ibáñez & Simi, 2012; Ola et al, 2013). MALAT1 knockdown reduces GDNF and BDNF in both ONT retinas and diabetic retinas, but has different effect on NGF and NT‐4 expression. DR and ONT represent chronic and acute animal model of neurodegeneration, respectively. Diabetes progressively alters the levels of neurotrophic factors in the retinas, reducing the strength of survival signaling and increasing apoptosis signaling, while axotomy rapidly activates apoptosis signaling. Trk/p75 receptor systems also function synergistically, antagonistically, or independently of each other (Ibáñez & Simi, 2012). The above‐mentioned evidence could explain why the ultimate effect of MALAT1 knockdown on neurotrophic factor production is different between ONT retinas and diabetic retinas.
MALAT1 may exert its effect on cell survival via various mechanisms, including modulation of gene expression and neurotrophic factor release. neurotrophic factor‐ or stress‐dependent gene expression has been reported to be mediated by several neuronal signal transduction cascades, such as PI3K/Akt pathway, MAPK pathway, Ca2+/CaMK, and cAMP/PKA pathway. These signaling pathways converge on the CREB family of leucine‐zipper transcription factors (Shaywitz & Greenberg, 1999; Mantamadiotis et al, 2002). CREB, a transcription factor, was identified as MALAT1‐interacting protein through mass spectrometry analysis. CREB has been reported in the maintenance of long‐term memory. CREB acts as a survival factor. CREB target genes can control the development, function, and plasticity of nervous system (Mayr & Montminy, 2001). We show that MALAT1/CREB signaling is involved in the regulation of Müller and RGC viability and proliferation. CREB activation potentiates the survival of retinal cells especially RGCs in response to glutamate, light or trauma‐induced retinal injury (Yoshida et al, 1995; Choi et al, 2003; Rácz et al, 2006). Thus, it is not surprised that MALAT1/CREB signaling is involved in retinal neurodegeneration.
The transcriptional activation of CREB is dependent on the phosphorylation of Ser133, which provides a survival signaling upon cellular stresses (Walton & Dragunow, 2000). CREB phosphorylation has been implicated in the resistance of cells to various insults. Some neuroprotective agents can exert their actions via signaling pathways that converge on CREB protein. For example, the Akt pathway leads to CREB phosphorylation and the potent neuroprotective agent, insulin‐like growth factor 1 (IGF1), phosphorylates CREB partly through the Akt pathway (Pugazhenthi et al, 1999). CREB continuous activation usually attenuates owing to the dephosphorylation at Ser133 by the serine/threonine phosphatases PP‐1 (Hagiwara et al, 1992) and PP‐2A (Wadzinski et al, 1993). We show that MALAT1 knockdown potentiates PP2A–CREB interaction. By contrast, MALAT1 overexpression attenuates PP2A–CREB interaction in Müller cells and RGCs. MALAT1‐CREB binding could maintain CREB phosphorylation by preventing PP2A‐mediated dephosphorylation, which in turn leading to continuous CREB activation. Thus, MALAT1‐CREB signaling would sustain Müller cell and RGC survival under stress condition, potentially offering a therapeutic target for the intervention of retinal neurodegeration.
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by neuropathological change in the brain (Dubois et al, 2007). Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is in direct contact with the brain interstitial fluid, and its composition reflects the pathogenic process in the brain (Hu et al, 2010). MALAT1 has been reported to been stably expressed in several biological fluids, such as blood and aqueous humor (Zhou et al, 2015). MALAT1 levels in CSF are obviously reduced in AD patients compared with the age‐matched controls. Thus, MALAT1 detection would provide a reference for AD diagnosis. Glioma is the most common and aggressive brain tumor with poor clinical outcome. MALAT1 levels are up‐regulated in the glioma tissues compared with the peritumoral tissues. Up‐regulated MALAT1 may lead to abnormal cell proliferation, migration, and invasion of glioma cells, contributing to glioblastoma pathogenesis. Glaucoma is characterized by progressive retinal ganglion cell death. Glaucomatous injury to retinal ganglion cells has also profound effects on target vision structures within the brain (Tezel, 2006; Gupta & Yücel, 2007). MALAT1 dysregulation may affect RGC survival and alter the development of glaucomatous neurodegeneration. Collectively, MALAT1 dysregulation is emerging as a common pathological feature in neurodegenerative and neuro‐oncological disorders. MALAT1 intervention may be a promising therapeutic target for treating these diseases.
In conclusion, we show that inhibition of MALAT1 signaling leads to severe retinal neurodegeneration in two different animal models. MALAT1 knockdown affects the biological function of Müller cell and RGCs, and Müller cells‐RGCs cross talk. Clinical and animal experiments show that MALAT1 dysfunction is implicated in the neurodegenerative processes and several human disorders. Our work identifies a critical regulator of retinal neurodegeneration and also broadens the known mechanism of lncRNA action.
Materials and Methods
The clinical study was approved by the ethics committee of Nanjing Medical University (Nanjing, China). The surgical specimens were handled according to the Declaration of Helsinki. All patients enrolled in the study were given written informed consent for clinical sample collection.
All animals were handled in accordance with the ARVO Statement for the Use of Animals in Ophthalmic and Vision Research and approved by the Animal Care and Use Committee of Nanjing Medical University (Nanjing, China). All animals were kept at constant temperature (25°C) and relative humidity (60%) with alternating 12‐h light–dark cycle (light on at 6 am and off at 6 pm). All experimental procedures were performed during the light cycle. Food and water were provided ad libitum.
Induction of diabetic rats
Three‐month‐old male Sprague Dawley (SD) rats were used in this study. Diabetes was intraperitoneally injected with streptozotocin [STZ, 60 mg/kg body weight, Sigma‐Aldrich in 10 mM citrate buffer (pH 4.5)]. The non‐diabetic controls received an equivalent amount of citrate buffer alone. Seven days after STZ injection, animals with blood glucose levels > 16.7 mmol/l were included in the diabetic group (Yan et al, 2015).
Optic nerve transaction (ONT) mice
ONT experiments were conducted in four‐month‐old male mice on a C57BL/6J background. Briefly, the mice were anesthetized with 0.1 ml/g of a mixture of 65% ketamine, 22% acepromazine, and 13% xylazine. An incision was made on the skin of C57Bl/6J mice near the supraorbital ridge. The intraorbital subcutaneous tissues were then dissected to expose optic nerve. The optic nerve dura was cut longitudinally along the superior aspect. Optic nerve was transected as close as possible to the eye. Fundus was examined using an operating microscope to confirm no ischemic damage (de Lima et al, 2012).
Primary RGC isolation
Primary rat RGCs were isolated using the Thy‐1.1 antibody‐panning method (Barres et al, 1988). In brief, retinas were obtained from the rat pups (postnatal days 4–6) and then treated with papain solution (4.5 units/ml, Worthington) to dissociate. Cell suspensions were incubated with the macrophage antibody and plated onto a 150‐mm petri dish coated with goat anti‐rabbit IgG (H+L chain) antibody to eliminate the microglia cells. The non‐adherent cells were then transferred to a 100‐mm petri dish coated with antibody against the selective RGC marker Thy1.1. The 100‐mm petri dish was then washed with PBS buffer to remove the non‐adherent cells. The adherent cells were dissociated off the petri dish with trypsin (1,250 units/ml) and mechanically triturated using a pipette. RGCs were cultured in the serum‐free defined medium, containing DMEM, forskolin (5 ng/ml), BDNF (50 ng/ml), and CNTF (10 ng/ml). Immunocytochemical staining of Thy1.1 (1:200, Abcam) showed that the purity of RGC was > 95%.
RNA fluorescence in situ hybridization
To detect the distribution of MALAT1 expression, primary RGCs or rMC‐1 cells were fixed in 4% paraformaldehyde (PFA) for 15 min and then permeabilized with 1% Triton‐X‐100 on ice for 10 min. These cells were washed with PBS buffer and rinsed in 2 × SSC prior to hybridization. Hybridization was carried out at 37°C for 5 h using Cy3‐labeled cDNA probe. Slides were counterstained tubulin antibody to show cell boundary. Finally, these cells were stained with DAPI to show the nuclei.
Experimental ocular tissues were enucleated and fixed with 4% PFA at 4°C for 12 h. They were then transferred to 30% sucrose solution for 12 h, embedded in Tissue‐Tek OCT compound (Miles), and cut into 10 μm cryosections. Retinal sections were immersed in the pre‐hybridization buffer containing 50% formamide, 5 × Denhardt's solution, and 5 × SSC (1 × SSC: 150 mM NaCl, 15 mM sodium citrate, pH 7.0) for 3 h. The sections were then hybridized using U6, sense or antisense Cy3‐labeled MALAT1 probe at 62°C for 6 h. Slides were washed and then incubated with RNase A (20 mg/ml) at 37°C for 30 min. Slides were finally mounted and observed using an Olympus IX‐73 microscope.
The eyes of mice or rats were removed, punctured with a fine gauge needle, and placed in 4% PFA at 4°C for 12 h. Eyes were then cryoprotected in 30% sucrose for 12 h and embedded in OCT medium (Sakura Finetek). Ten‐micrometer tissue sections were cut at −20°C in a cryostat (Thermo Scientific) and collected on the poly‐L‐lysine coated slides. For immunohistochemistry, sections were permeabilized in PBS with 0.2% Triton‐X for 20 min and then blocked in PBS with 10% bovine serum albumin (BSA) for 1 h. Retinal sections were incubated with the primary antibodies, including GFAP (1:200, Abcam), GS (1:200, Abcam), NeuN (1:100, Abcam), TUBB3 (1:100, Abcam), calretinin (1:500, Chemicon), calbindin (1:200, Abcam), rhodopsin (1:1,000, Sigma), protein kinase Cα (PKCα, 1:200, Abcam), nestin (1:100, Santa Cruz), or vimentin (1:100, Santa Cruz) at 4°C for 24 h. The sections were washed with PBS and then incubated with FITC‐ or Cy3‐conjugated secondary antibody (1:500, Invitrogen) overnight at 4°C. Slides were finally mounted and observed using an Olympus IX‐73 microscope.
RNA immunoprecipitation (RIP)
Primary RGCs or rMC‐1 cells were resuspended in the modified RIPA buffer (150 mM NaCl, 50 mM Tris, 0.5% sodium deoxycholate, 0.1% SDS, 1% NP‐40) supplemented with RNase inhibitor (Ambion) and complete protease inhibitor (Roche). The cell suspension was briefly sonicated to lyses nuclei. Cell debris was removed by centrifugation at 4°C, pre‐cleared with protein G beads, and then incubated with protein G beads which were pre‐bound with Akt, CREB, or PP2A antibody. For each RNA immunoprecipitation (RIP) assay, 5 μg of antibodies was used. Beads were then washed three times in the modified RIPA buffer and twice in the high salt RIPA buffer (1 M NaCl, 50 mM Tris, 0.5% sodium deoxycholate, 0.1% SDS, 1% NP‐40). Cross‐link was reversed, and proteins were digested with Proteinase K (Invitrogen) at 65°C for 2 h. RNA was extracted in TRIzol reagents and precipitated in isopropanol (Ng et al, 2012).
Data entry and all analyses were performed in a blinded fashion. All statistical analyses were performed using SPSS 13.0 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA). Data were tested for the normality by the D'Agostino–Pearson omnibus normality test and similar variance by F‐test. Comparison between any two groups was by two‐tailed unpaired t‐test for normally distributed data or nonparametric Mann–Whitney U‐test for non‐normally distributed data. Multiple group comparison was done by one‐way analysis of variance (ANOVA) for data with normal distribution. The Kruskal–Wallis test was used for data with non‐normal distribution. A probability value P < 0.05 was considered statistically significant.
The paper explained
Normal vision depends on correct function of retinal neurons. Loss of vision due to irreversible retinal neurodegeneration is a significant disease burden on both patients and society. The eukaryotic genome harbors a large number of long non‐coding RNAs, which have been reported to play important roles in many cellular processes and human disorders. However, the role of long non‐coding RNA in retinal neurodegeneration is still unclear.
We show that MALAT1 expression is significantly up‐regulated in the retinas, Müller cells, and primary retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) upon stress. MALAT1 knockdown reduces reactive gliosis, Müller cell activation, and RGC survival in vivo and in vitro. Clinical and animal experiments show that MALAT1 dysfunction is implicated in neurodegenerative process and several human diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, glioma, and glaucoma.
This study identifies a critical regulator of retinal neurodegeneration and also broadens the known mechanism of lncRNA action. MALAT1 intervention provides a promising therapeutic opportunity for ocular diseases associated with retinal neurodegeneration.
BY designed the research; JY, X‐QW, Y‐JL, KS, HY, J‐YL, X‐ML, Y‐N‐ZW, CL, M‐DY, and BY performed the research; JY, YS, Y‐YZ, HC, JY, and QJ collected the clinical samples; BY analyzed data and wrote the article; and BY and QJ conceived the idea and supervised the whole project. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Source Data for Appendix [emmm201505725-sup-0002-SDataAppendix.zip]
This work was generously supported by the grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No 81300241 and 81470594 to B.Y. and Grant No. 81371055 and 81570859 to Q.J.), grants from the National Clinical Key Construction project [Grant No. (2012) 649 to Q.J.], grants from the Six Talent Peaks Project Fund of Jiangsu province (Grant No. WS‐073 to QJ), grants from the Medical Science and Technology Development Project Fund of Nanjing (Grant No. ZKX 12047 to Q.J. and Gran No. YKK13227 to B.Y), and grants from the Qing Lan Project of Jiangsu Province [Grant No. (2012)39 to J.Y].
FundingNational Natural Science Foundation of China81300241814705948137105581570859
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