Retinal microglia initiate neuroinflammation in ocular

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IMMUNOLOGY AND INFLAMMATION

Retinal microglia initiate neuroinflammation in ocular autoimmunity

Yoko Okunukia, Ryo Mukaia, Takeshi Nakaob, Steven J. Tabora, Oleg Butovskyc,d,e, Reza Danab, Bruce R. Ksanderb, and Kip M. Connora,1

aAngiogenesis Laboratory, Department of Ophthalmology, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114; bSchepens Eye Research Institute, Department of Ophthalmology, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114; cAnn Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115; dDepartment of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115; and eEvergrande Center for Immunologic Diseases, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard

Medical School, Boston, MA 02115

Edited by Gabriel A. Rabinovich, University of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and approved March 26, 2019 (received for review December 3, 2018)

Autoimmune uveitis is a sight-threatening ocular inflammatory condition in which the retina and uveal tissues become a target of autoreactive immune cells. While microglia have been studied extensively in autoimmune uveitis, their exact function remains uncertain. The objective of the current study was to determine whether resident microglia are necessary and sufficient to initiate and amplify retinal inflammation in autoimmune uveitis. In this study, we clearly demonstrate that microglia are essential for initiating infiltration of immune cells utilizing a murine model of experimental autoimmune uveoretinitis (EAU) and the recently identified microglia-specific marker P2ry12. Initiating disease is the primary function of microglia in EAU, since eliminating microglia during the later stages of EAU had little effect, indicating that the function of circulating leukocytes is to amplify and sustain destructive inflammation once microglia have triggered disease. In the absence of microglia, uveitis does not develop, since leukocytes cannot gain entry through the blood-retinal barrier, illustrating that microglia play a critical role in regulating infiltration of inflammatory cells into the retina.

| | | | microglia autoimmune uveitis retina blood-retinal barrier

systemic leukocytes

Autoimmune uveitis, which occurs in a variety of diseases, including Bechet's disease, sarcoidosis, and Vogt?Koyanagi? Harada disease, among many others, is a sight-threatening ocular inflammatory disease (1, 2). Although autoimmune uveitis covers a range of different clinical entities, autoimmunity against the retina and the uveal tissues is thought to be fundamental to its pathogenesis (3). Experimental autoimmune uveitis (EAU) is an animal model of human autoimmune uveitis, and is widely used to delineate the pathophysiological processes of ocular autoimmunity and develop new approaches to treat patients (4). EAU is induced by immunization against retinal antigens such as interphotoreceptor retinoid-binding protein (IRBP), which is a major component of photoreceptor outer segments, thus targeting the immune response to photoreceptors, which are the primary target of autoimmunity in autoimmune uveitis (5, 6). Immunization with IRBP and additional adjuvants leads to priming of autoreactive CD4+ T cells in peripheral lymphoid organs and polarization into pathogenic Th1 and Th17 cells. Once activated, Th cells home to the eye and induce breakdown of the blood-retinal barrier, an ocular-specific immune barrier that protects eyes from destructive inflammation via tight junctions present between endothelial cells in the blood vessels that block circulating leukocyte extravasation into the retina (7).

Microglia are resident immune cells of the central nervous system, including the retina, and are important in homeostatic maintenance of the neuroretinal microenvironment (8). In healthy eyes, microglia typically have a highly ramified morphology, and their cell bodies are located in three layers in the inner retina: the ganglion cell layer, the inner plexiform layer, and the outer plexiform layer (9). Similar to brain microglia, retinal microglia

keep the retina under surveillance by moving their processes and elicit multiple functions, including immune surveillance, synaptic pruning, and regulation of neurogenesis and axonal growth (10). Microglia become activated during various retinal disease processes, including pathological retinal angiogenesis (11), retinal detachment (9), retinal degeneration (12, 13), and autoimmune uveitis (14). Since activated microglia can be either beneficial (9) or harmful (12) to the affected tissue due to their altered functional states, including phagocytosis, antigen presentation, and production of inflammatory factors, controlling microglial function by immunomodulatory therapies under disease conditions is a major focus in the study of microglia (15, 16).

While the function of immune cell involvement in the development of autoimmune uveitis has been studied extensively, the exact function of microglia in the pathogenesis of this disease remains uncertain. In particular, it is still unclear what antigen-presenting cells (APCs) initiate and amplify destructive inflammation within the retina. There are two possible candidates: (i) microglia that are MHC class II-, but become MHC class II+ after activation; and (ii) circulating MHC class II+ monocytes/macrophages that would first need to infiltrate the retina to trigger inflammation (17). Whether one or all of these APC populations are necessary to initiate and amplify retinal inflammation in autoimmune uveitis is unclear.

Significance

Autoimmune uveitis is a serious sight-threatening condition defined by an autoreactive immune response against uveal tissues and the retina. As a result, patients with uveitis often suffer serious visual loss after persistent inflammation due to immune-mediated damage in the targeted tissues. Microglia are resident immune cells in the retina, and are thought to be the key population that initiates retinal inflammation; however, the exact role for microglia in autoimmune uveitis is still unknown. Here, we demonstrate that microglia are essential for the induction of a retinal autoimmune response, as microglial ablation completely blocks disease. Our data suggest that microglia mediate autoreactive immune cell entry into the retina, and that by depleting microglia, circulating immune cells cannot gain entry into the retina.

Author contributions: Y.O. and K.M.C. designed research; Y.O., R.M., and T.N. performed research; Y.O., S.J.T., O.B., R.D., B.R.K., and K.M.C. analyzed data; and Y.O. and K.M.C. wrote the paper.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.

This open access article is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercialNoDerivatives License 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND).

1To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: kip_connor@meei.harvard.edu.

This article contains supporting information online at lookup/suppl/doi:10. 1073/pnas.1820387116/-/DCSupplemental.

Published online April 25, 2019.

cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1820387116

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The problem in resolving this question in previous studies was that it had not been possible to specifically identify or eliminate only microglia, since the available markers, such as CD11b, Iba-1, and Cx3cr1, used to identify activated microglia are also expressed on monocytes/macrophages. However, in the present study, we utilized the recently identified microglia-specific marker P2ry12 (18) that is expressed on microglia but not macrophages. To determine the function of microglia during initiation and amplification of EAU, we used the colony-stimulating factor-1 (Csfr1) antagonist PLX5622 that was previously shown to selectively induce cell death in microglia in vivo (19?21), with minimal effects on other APC subpopulations. Results using PLX5622-induced microglial depletion were confirmed with a second microglia-specific depletion method utilizing local administration of diphtheria toxin (DTX) in Cx3cr1CreER ? B6-inducible diphtheria toxin receptor (iDTR) mice (22, 23). In each case, eliminating retinal microglia before mice were immunized against IRBP prevented the development of uveitis, and circulating primed immune cells were unable to infiltrate into the retina. Circulating monocytes/macrophages failed to replace the function of resident microglia in triggering the start of EAU. Therefore, microglia have the unique function of initiating infiltration of immune cells into the retina during development of autoimmune uveitis. This is the primary function of microglia in EAU, since eliminating microglia after mice were immunized against IRBP and disease had already started had no effect on the severity or progression of uveitis, indicating the function of monocytes/macrophages is to amplify and sustain destructive inflammation once microglia have triggered the initiation of the disease.

Results

Microglia Depletion by a Csf1r Antagonist, PLX5622, Suppresses Uveitis. To define the role of retinal microglia in EAU, we first determined if microglial depletion before EAU induction affected disease progression. To accomplish this, we utilized a Csf1r antagonist (PLX5622), which was shown previously to selectively induce cell death in microglia (19?21). PLX5622 rapidly depletes all retinal microglia within the inner and outer plexiform layers and the ganglion cell layer within 7 d of beginning treatment (Fig. 1A and SI Appendix, Fig. S1). Previously, we demonstrated that microglia undergo apoptosis with dietary PLX5622 treatment (9). Dietary chow containing PLX5622 (1,200 ppm) or a matched control diet was started 7 d before IRBP immunization to ensure complete depletion of retinal microglia in PLX5622-treated animals before induction of EAU. Clinical assessment of EAU pathology via fundus examination (7, 14, 21, and 28 d after induction) and histological assessment using H&E staining (21 d after induction) were conducted to monitor disease progression with treatment. The severity of retinal inflammation of each eye was assessed by evaluating the degree of vasculitis, immune cell infiltration, and damage in the retina and the choroid using previously defined disease severity scales that range between 0 and 4 and are noted in half-point increments (24, 25). Microglial depletion completely suppressed the development of EAU through day 21 (n = 7 mice per group; P < 0.001). Only one animal in the PLX5622-treated group developed very mild vasculitis that was not apparent until day 28, although 100% of the control animals developed EAU with vasculitis and chorioretinal infiltrates by day 21 (Fig. 1 B and C). Moreover, histological EAU evaluation of mice with and without microglial depletion on day 21 further confirmed that depletion of retinal microglia completely suppressed infiltrating inflammatory cells (P < 0.01; Fig. 1 D and E). Hallmarks of retinal inflammation such as photoreceptor folds, vitreous cells, and retinal granulomas, which were observed in the control animals, were absent in the PLX5622-treated animals that lack microglia. Cumulatively, these data demonstrate that eliminating microglia before IRBP immunization suppresses EAU development, indicating that microglia play a vital role in initiating EAU pathogenesis.

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Fig. 1. Microglia depletion suppresses EAU. C57BL/6 mice were fed PLX5622 (PLX), a Csf1r antagonist, or control diet starting 7 d before IRBP immunization (day 0). (A) Retinas were whole-mounted and stained for P2ry12 in naive mice and mice fed PLX for 3 and 7 d. Z-stack orthogonal view images of the entire thickness (including the inner and the outer plexiform layers and the ganglion cell layer) of the midperipheral retina were taken by confocal microscopy. Representative images from three to four retinas per time point are shown. (Scale bars: 100 m.) (B) Time course of EAU clinical scores (n = 7 mice per group) by fundus observation. Scores were graded in a blinded manner on a scale between 0 and 4 in half-point increments as described previously. Briefly, trace chorioretinal lesions and minimal vasculitis were scored as 0.5. Mild vasculitis with small focal chorioretinal lesions (5) were scored as 1. Severe vasculitis with multiple chorioretinal lesions (>5) were scored as 2. A pattern of a linear chorioretinal lesion, subretinal neovascularization, and hemorrhage were scored as 3. Inflammation with large retinal detachment and severe hemorrhages were scored as 4. (C) Representative retinal fundus images indicating a score of 1.5 in control immunized mice (vasculitis and chorioretinal lesions) but absent in PLX-treated mice on day 21. (D) Histopathological EAU score on day 21 (n = 5 mice per group) were graded in a blinded manner on a scale between 0 and 4 in half-point increments as described previously. Briefly, focal nongranulomatous, monocytic infiltration in the choroid, ciliary body, and retina were scored as 0.5. Retinal perivascular infiltration and monocytic infiltration in the vitreous were scored as 1. Granuloma formation in the uvea and retina together with the presence of occluded retinal vasculitis, photoreceptor folds, serous retinal detachment, and loss of photoreceptors, were scored as 2. In addition, the formation of granulomas at the level of the retinal pigment epithelium and the development of subretinal neovascularization were scored as 3 and 4 according to the number and the size of the lesions. (E) Representative histopathological (H&E staining) images indicating a score of 1.5 (photoreceptor folds, vitreous cells, and retinal granulomas) in control mice and 0 (no inflammation) in PLXtreated mice. The average of scores from both eyes was determined as the score of the animal. (Scale bars: 100 m.) (B and D) Mann?Whitney U test. Data are expressed as mean ? SEM. *P < 0.05; **P < 0.01; ***P < 0.001.

Csf1r Antagonism Does Not Significantly Decrease IRBP-Specific Immune Response. Our data and prior findings from other laboratories clearly demonstrate that retinal microglia require Csf1r for survival (26). However, Csf1r is also expressed on systemic macrophages/monocytes, and we therefore could not exclude the possibility that PLX5622 treatment inhibits EAU not via eliminating retinal microglia, but by blocking the systemic induction of autoreactive immune cells. Even though previous studies indicated PLX5622 treatment has only minimal effects on circulating systemic immune cells (9, 20, 21), we nevertheless sought to evaluate

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the effects of PLX5622 treatment on the development of IRBPspecific immunity via examining: (i) IRBP-specific delayed hypersensitivity in vivo, and (ii) IRBP-specific and nonspecific (Con Ainduced) lymphocyte proliferation in vitro. Groups of mice analyzed were as follows: (i) negative controls (naive unimmunized mice), (ii) positive controls (control feed-treated immunized mice), and (iii) PLX5622-fed (microglia-depleted) immunized mice. We found that mice receiving PLX5622 treatment still generated a systemic IRBP-specific immune response, even though they failed to develop EAU. The induction of delayed hypersensitivity in the ear against IRBP-peptide 1?20 (IRBP-p) was not significantly reduced by PLX5622 treatment (Fig. 2A). Moreover, PLX5622 treatment did not significantly affect IRBP-specific in vitro lymphocyte proliferation using draining lymph node (LN) cells or spleen cells recovered at 14 and 21 d postimmunization (Fig. 2 B?E). There was also no evidence that PLX5622 treatment resulted in significant atrophy of lymphoid organs (Fig. 2 F and G). Together, these data indicate that while PLX5622 treatment depletes retinal microglia and suppresses development of EAU, it does not significantly inhibit the systemic induction of IRPBreactive immune cells.

To further confirm that PLX5622 treatment did not alter the ability of mice to generate an IRBP-specific immune response, we examined the induction of CD4+ T cell subpopulations that represent either effector T cells (IFN-? or IL-17?producing cells) or CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ regulatory T cells. Dendritic cells (CD11c+CD11b+) and macrophages (CD11clowCD11b+) within the LNs and spleen were compared as frequencies among CD45+ cells, a pan-leukocyte marker. We found that within the LNs and spleens of PLX5622-treated mice at 14 d postimmunization, there was a reduction in the frequency of CD11c+CD11b+ dendritic cells, a cell population that is essential for activating CD4+ T cells in EAU (27, 28), but there was no significant reduction in the frequency of CD11clowCD11b+ macrophages (Fig. 3 A and D). By contrast, PLX5622 treatment did not significantly reduce the frequency of CD3+CD4+ T cells positive for IFN-+ or IL-17+, which are two major pathogenic cytokines in EAU (29) (Fig. 3 B and E). In addition, PLX5622 treatment did not increase the frequency of regulatory T cells, which are known to suppress EAU (30) (Fig. 3 C and F). These data demonstrate that although PLX5622 treatment caused a reduction in the frequency of dendritic cells, this reduction did not significantly reduce the ability to induce IRBP-specific cytokine-producing CD4+ T cells involved in EAU. Together, these in vivo and in vitro studies indicate that PLX5622 treatment does not significantly decrease the ability of mice to induce an IRBP-specific autoimmune response, but rather disrupts immune cell infiltration.

Csf1r Antagonism Has No Effect on Uveitogenic Cell Activation in EAU. PLX5622-treated, IRBP-immunized mice that lacked retinal microglia failed to develop EAU (Fig. 1). To conclusively prove the absence of EAU in PLX5622-treated mice was due to the absence of microglia and not due to a failure to generate IRBPreactive immune cells, we utilized the adoptive transfer model of EAU. In this model, IRBP-reactive immune cells are transferred from donor IRBP-immunized mice into naive recipient mice by i.p. injection, which subsequently develop EAU without receiving systemic immunization (31, 32). Thus, by transferring IRBP-reactive immune cells from a donor into recipient PLX5622treated mice that lack retinal microglia, we are able to assess the contribution of microglia on the development of EAU in mice that are known to possess circulating autoreactive immune cells. This approach excludes any potential negative effects of Csf1r antagonism on the systemic cell priming stage.

When primed cells from IRBP-immunized donor mice with EAU were adoptively i.p. transferred into naive recipient mice fed the control diet, significant inflammation characteristic of EAU was induced, including severe vasculitis, optic disk swelling,

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Fig. 2. Microglia depletion by a Csf1r antagonist in EAU does not alter the systemic immune response to the immunized peptide. C57BL/6 mice were fed the Csf1r antagonist PLX5622 (PLX) or a control diet 7 d before IRBP immunization, and animals were immunized on day 0. (A?E) Animals were evaluated for a systemic immune response against the IRBP-p. (A) Delayed hypersensitivity, as determined by ear swelling, was evaluated on day 21. Mice were injected intradermally with IRBP-p into the pinna of one ear on day 19. Ear swelling was measured after 48 h using a micrometer (n = 6? 7 mice per group). (B?E) Cell proliferation was evaluated by using the cells isolated from LNs and spleens (SPs) on days 14 and 21. The cells were cultured in triplicate for 3 d in the presence of IRBP-p (10 g), Con A (1 g), or medium only (n = 5 mice per group). During the last 4 h before the 72-h endpoint culture, the Cell Counting Kit-8 was added to each well. At 72 h, viable cell numbers in each well were measured as the absorbance (450 nm) of reduced WST-8. (F and G) Weights of the draining LNs (n = 5 mice per group) and SPs (n = 5 mice per group) were measured on day 21. Data were analyzed by one-way ANOVA, followed by Tukey's multiple comparison test. Data are expressed as mean ? SEM. *P < 0.05; **P < 0.01; ***P < 0.001; ****P < 0.0001. n.s., not significant.

chorioretinal infiltrates, presence of vitreous cells, photoreceptor loss, and retinal folds (Fig. 4 A?C), indicating the transferred cells were capable of triggering EAU. By contrast, when these same primed cells from IRBP-immunized donor mice were transferred into naive recipient PLX5622-treated mice that lacked retinal microglia, no significant inflammation was detected, indicating the circulating primed cells were not capable of infiltrating the retina and triggering EAU when retinal microglia were not present (Fig. 4 A?C).

In addition, we used this adoptive transfer model to confirm that PLX5622 treatment did not block the induction of IRBP-reactive

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Fig. 3. Csf1r antagonism does not suppress cytokine production in cells from LNs and spleens (SPs) in EAU, but suppresses CD11c+CD11b+ dendritic

cells. C57BL/6 mice fed the PLX5622 (PLX) or control diet were immunized

with IRBP-p. LN cells and SP cells from immunized mice on day 14 (PLX and

control) and naive mice were analyzed by flow cytometry. CD11b and CD11c expression on CD45+ cells (A and D), IFN- and IL-17 expression on CD3+CD4+ cells (B and E), and CD25+Foxp3+ cells on CD3+CD4+ cells (C and F) in LNs (A? C) and in SPs (D?F) are shown (n = 5 mice per group). Data were analyzed using one-way ANOVA, followed by Tukey's multiple comparison test. Data are expressed as mean ? SEM. *P < 0.05; **P < 0.01; ***P < 0.001; ****P < 0.0001. DCs, dendritic cells; M, macrophage; n.s., not significant.

immune cells capable of mediating EAU. When donor cells from mice that received PLX5622 treatment starting 7 d before IRBP immunization (-17 d) were transferred i.p. into naive recipient mice, significant inflammation characteristic of EAU was induced. Moreover, the kinetics and magnitude of the inflammation induced by these adoptively transferred cells were not significantly different from the inflammation observed in control recipient mice that received donor cells from mice not treated with PLX5622 (Fig. 4 D and E). Together, these results indicate that PLX5622 treatment does not inhibit the induction of IRBP-reactive immune cells capable of mediating EAU, and that the failure of PLX5622-treated mice to develop EAU was due to the loss of retinal microglia.

Local Ablation of CX3CR1+ Retinal Microglia Suppresses EAU. To rigorously confirm the function of microglia in the development of EAU, we used a second method to deplete retinal microglia that was not dependent on blocking Csf1r. We depleted retinal microglia utilizing a transgenic mouse approach. Cx3cr1CreER

mice with a tamoxifen-inducible Cre recombinase gene controlled by the Cx3cr1 promoter were crossed to B6-iDTR mice with a floxed DTR gene. When the resulting mice (Cx3cr1CreER ? B6-iDTR) receive tamoxifen, DTR is expressed only on CX3CR1expressing cells, which can then be eliminated selectively by administering DTX. Approximately 90% elimination of retinal microglia can be achieved when the animals are treated with five consecutive days of systemic i.p. injections of tamoxifen followed by anterior chamber injection of DTX (9). However, tamoxifen has a known immunosuppressive effect on autoimmunity (33, 34), and this systemic tamoxifen treatment regimen, with no

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Fig. 4. Csf1r antagonism suppresses EAU in recipient mice but does not significantly suppress uveitogenicity of donor lymphocytes in adoptive transfer EAU models. Adoptive transfer EAU was induced in recipient mice by transferring activated lymphocytes from donor mice. The donor mice were immunized with IRBP-p, and spleens (SPs) and LNs were harvested 14 d postimmunization. The SP and LN cells isolated from donor mice were cultured for 3 d under stimulation with IRBP-p and IL-23. Adoptive transfer EAU was induced in recipient mice by i.p. transferring activated lymphocytes from donor mice. (A?C) PLX5622 (PLX) or control diet was given to recipient mice 7 d before cell transfer from donor mice. (A) Schematic time course of the experiment in which PLX was administered to recipient mice. (B) Time course clinical score (evaluated as in Fig. 1) and representative fundus images on day 13 (n = 5 mice per group). (C) Histopathological score on day 13 (evaluated as in Fig. 1) and representative images of the recipient PLX experiment (n = 5 mice per group). (D and E) PLX or control diet was given to donor mice 7 d before IRBP immunization, and cells were then i.p. transferred to recipient mice treated with a regular diet. (D) Schematic time course of the experiment in which PLX was given to donor mice. (E) Time course of clinical score and representative fundus images on day 14 in the donor PLX experiment (n = 5 mice per group). Mann?Whitney U test. Data are expressed as mean ? SEM. *P < 0.05; **P < 0.01. (Scale bars: 200 m.)

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DTX administered, suppressed development of EAU (SI Appendix, Fig. S2 A and B). For this reason, we administered tamoxifen locally via eye drops (22), which did not significantly reduce EAU (SI Appendix, Fig. S2 A and C).

Cre recombinase was activated by tamoxifen administration via eye drops (three times per day) for five consecutive days. DTX was administered via anterior chamber injections (22, 23). Using this approach, 60% of retinal microglia were depleted 48 h after DTX injection (SI Appendix, Fig. S3A). The maximum depletion of microglia via this technique was most likely limited by the amount of Cre recombinase activated by administering tamoxifen via eye drops. The adoptive transfer of the EAU method, as described above, was used to evaluate microglia depletion via this method. IRBP-reactive immune cells were generated by immunizing donor mice with IRBP. Recipient naive mice received tamoxifen treatment starting 2 wk before the adoptive transfer of donor cells. Recipient mice received anterior chamber injections of either saline (negative control) or DTX every 2 d starting 1 d before transfer of donor cells. The mice were evaluated by clinical fundus examination and histological examination on day 10 after cell transfer (SI Appendix, Fig. S3B). EAU was significantly inhibited in microglia-depleted mice but not in control mice (SI Appendix, Fig. S3 C and D). This confirmed that microglia direct the amount of infiltration and retinal destruction in autoimmune uveitis. EAU inhibition in these experiments was not as complete as we observed in PLX5622treated mice, which is likely due to the degree of microglia depletion using these two techniques (60% versus 100% depletion in DTX-treated and PLX5622-treated mice, respectively).

Suppression of EAU Through Microglial Depletion Is Time-Dependent. To determine whether microglia, in addition to initiating EAU, are required to amplify and sustain retinal inflammation, we depleted microglia at various time points before and after infiltration of immune cells into the retina. In this EAU model, retinal inflammation is not observed on day 7 after immunization, and begins around day 10, indicating that autoimmune cells first infiltrate the retina between days 7 and 10 (Fig. 5A). In addition, PLX5622 treatment requires 7 d to eliminate retinal microglia. Therefore, to eliminate microglia after IRBP immunization but before immune cell infiltration, treatment was started on day 0 so that microglia were depleted by day 7, before immune cell infiltration and development of EAU. To eliminate microglia during the "early phase" of EAU, treatment was started on day 7 so that microglia depletion was completed by day 14, before the peak of inflammation but after immune cell recruitment. To eliminate microglia during the "late phase" of EAU, treatment was started on day 14 so that microglia depletion was completed by day 21, after the development of significant inflammation (Fig. 5A).

As expected, when PLX5622 treatment was started on the day of immunization (day 0), EAU was effectively suppressed (Fig. 5B). PLX5622-treated mice did not develop any signs of EAU postimmunization, whereas control-treated mice developed significant EAU with vasculitis and chorioretinal infiltrates. When PLX5622 treatment was started on day 7 after immunization, EAU was partially suppressed (Fig. 5C). PLX5622-treated mice developed very mild vasculitis around the optic disk, whereas control mice had elevated vasculitis and chorioretinal infiltrates in wide lesions. In this group, microglia were depleted by day 14, resulting in the presence of a smaller population of microglia when infiltration begins on day 10. By contrast, when PLX5622 treatment was started on day 14, the severity of EAU was not significantly different from that in control mice (Fig. 5D). Both PLX5622-treated and control-treated mice developed comparable inflammation with vasculitis and chorioretinal lesions. In this group, a full population of microglia is present when immune cells start to infiltrate on day 10, and complete microglial depletion would occur

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Fig. 5. Microglial depletion following IRBP immunization diminishes EAU suppression. C57BL/6 mice were immunized with IRBP, and microglia depletion by PLX5622 (PLX) was started at different time points (days 0, 7, and 14 postimmunization) so that microglia depletion started at different time points of development of EAU. The animals fed the control diet without microglia depletion served as controls. Ocular inflammation was observed every 7 d until day 28. (A, Top) Diagram illustrates a normal time course of EAU in C57BL/6 mice. (A, Bottom) Three diagrams illustrate the timing of PLX administration (days 0, 7, and 14 postimmunization) and corresponding time courses of microglial depletion. (B?D) Time course of EAU clinical inflammation (days 7, 14, 21, and 28) (evaluated as in Fig. 1) and representative fundus images on day 21. PLX or the control diet was started on day 0 (B), day 7 (C), and day 14 (D) after immunization [mice per group: n = 7?8 (B), n = 7 (C), n = 8?9 (D)]. Mann?Whitney U test. Data are expressed as mean ? SEM. *P < 0.05; **P < 0.01; ***P < 0.001. n.s., not significant.

only during the late amplification phase. Taken together, these data indicate the primary function of microglia is to initiate inflammation in EAU, since eliminating microglia during the late phase of disease development had no effect on the severity or progression of uveitis. These data suggest the function of peripheral monocytes/macrophages is to amplify and sustain destructive inflammation once microglia have triggered the start of disease.

Microglia Interact with Adherent Vascular Leukocytes in the Early Phase of EAU. To determine the morphological stage of microglial activation during EAU, whole-mount retinas from EAU mice on days 7, 10, and 14 were stained with P2ry12 (a microgliaspecific marker) and lectin (an endothelial marker for vessel staining), and then evaluated using confocal microscopy. Naive mice served as a normal control (day 0). We observed morphologically activated microglia by day 7, progressing from a highly ramified appearance into a more activated amoeboid shape as disease progressed (Fig. 6A, Left and SI Appendix, Fig. S4 A and B). The

Okunuki et al.

PNAS | May 14, 2019 | vol. 116 | no. 20 | 9993

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number of microglia was unchanged through the early phase of EAU (SI Appendix, Fig. S4C); however, previous studies have indicated retinal microglia/macrophages migrated to the outer retina at/after the peak of EAU pathology (35, 36). Of interest, we observed that microglia remained in the retinal vascular layers (Fig. 6A, Right) and appeared to become more closely associated with retinal vessels during EAU disease progression (Fig. 6 A, Center and B).

Accordingly, we hypothesized that microglia may trigger recruitment of inflammatory cells via increasing adhesion of leukocytes to retinal vessels. To test this hypothesis, we examined the number of adherent leukocytes within retinal vessels during EAU in the presence or absence of microglia. We found that PLX5622treated immunized mice that lack microglia had significantly fewer adherent cells than control-treated immunized mice (Fig. 7 A and B). Moreover, there was no significant difference in the number of adherent cells between control-treated unimmunized mice and PLX5622-treated immunized mice that lacked microglia (Fig. 7 A

A P2ry12 Lectin

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Fig. 6. Microglia interact with retinal vessels during development of EAU. EAU was induced in C57BL/6 mice, and whole-mount retinas were then stained with anti-P2ry12 antibody (magenta) and lectin (yellow) at 0, 7, 10, and 14 d after EAU induction. Confocal z-stack images of the entire retinal thickness in the midperipheral retina were taken and 3D-reconstructed using Amira software. (A) Representative images from a single scan area at each time point are shown: the top view of microglia (Left), the top view of microglia and lectin (Center), the bottom view (Top Right), and the side view (Bottom Right). The bottom view illustrates changes occurring under the retinal vascular bed (i.e., the outer nuclear layer and the photoreceptors), which are highlighted by masking the upper retina with an inserted black surface. (B) Magnified images of microglia from the areas surrounded by white squares in the images of day 0 and day 14 in A. At least four eyes were examined for each time point. (Scale bars: 50 m.)

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and B), indicating the increase in cells adhering to the retinal vasculature coincides directly with the presence of microglia.

We next determined if microglia have direct contact with adherent leukocytes in the early phase of EAU. EAU was induced in C57BL/6 mice on a regular diet, and the retinas were collected for immunohistochemistry on days 7 and 10, which is when immune cells begin to infiltrate the retina in EAU. Antibodies against MHC class II, CD11b, or CD4/CD8 were used to label leukocytes, with labeling of microglia and blood vessels using P2ry12 and lectin, respectively. Under direct observation with confocal microscopy, microglia located close to intravessel leukocytes were chosen, and z-stack images of those microglia were taken. We observed direct association of microglia and adherent leukocytes through microglial processes using the z-stack and 3D-constructed images (Fig. 7 C?E and Movies S1?S8). Activated microglia are known to express MHC class II; however, we observed that morphologically activated microglia on day 7 (SI Appendix, Fig. S5 A and B) and day 10 (Fig. 7C and SI Appendix, Fig. S5C) were MHC class II-. We identified an MHC-class II+ adherent leukocyte population that interacts with microglia on day 7 of EAU (SI Appendix, Fig. S5A and Movies S1 and S2) and prominently on day 10 (Fig. 7C and Movies S3 and S4). Intravascular CD11b+ cells and CD4/CD8+ cells also directly interacted with microglia (Fig. 7 D and E and Movies S5?S8). The 3D-constructed images demonstrated that microglia have direct contact with these leukocytes (Movies S1, S3, S5, and S7), which are located on the intravascular wall (Movies S2, S4, S6, and S8). These adherent cellular populations have been implicated in EAU disease pathology; therefore, based on these observations, we suggest that microglia play a critical role in induction of EAU by directing the recruitment of leukocytes into the retinal microenvironment and likely trigger subsequent wide-scale inflammatory cell entry into the neuroretina.

Discussion

In this study, we used a Csf1r antagonist (PLX5622) known to eliminate microglia to determine the contribution of retinal microglia in the development of autoimmune uveitis induced by systemic immunization with IRBP. Our data indicate retinal microglia are essential for initiating infiltration of inflammatory cells during the early stages of EAU. In the absence of microglia, we did not detect evidence of either retinal infiltrating cells or inflammation, even when the mice possessed circulating primed IRBP-reactive immune cells that were shown to be fully capable of inducing EAU (Fig. 4 B and C). These data imply that monocytes/macrophages cannot replace the function of microglia, and trigger the development of EAU by initiating the infiltration of IRBP-reactive immune cells. Although Csf1r is also expressed on systemic monocytes/macrophages, treatment with PLX5622 did not affect the ability of mice to generate systemic IRBP-specific immune responses (Fig. 2 A?E). The EAUinducing capability of autoreactive immune cells, using adoptive transfer experiments, indicated that systemic IRBP-specific immune cells were equally developed in PLX5622-treated and control-treated IRBP-immunized mice (Fig. 4E). Therefore, our data indicate the primary function of retinal microglia in autoimmune uveitis is to initiate disease and without microglia, no local inflammation will develop.

Our imaging studies further indicated that in IRBP-immunized mice, retinal microglia developed an activated morphology and became closely associated with retinal vessels before any evidence of uveitis (Fig. 6 and SI Appendix, Fig. S4). Moreover, these microglia had direct contact with a variety of adherent leukocytes in the retinal vasculature during the early phase of EAU (days 7?10), interacting not only with T cells but also with MHC class II+ cells and CD11b+ cells (Fig. 7 C?E and SI Appendix, Fig. S5 and Movies S1?S8). This observation suggests microglia have a direct effect on

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