Pollak J, Wilken MS, Ueki Y, Cox KE, Sullivan JM, Taylor RJ, Levine EM, Reh TA
Non-mammalian vertebrates have a robust ability to regenerate injured retinal neurons from Müller glia (MG) that activate the gene encoding the proneural factor Achaete-scute homolog 1 (Ascl1; also known as Mash1 in mammals) and de-differentiate into progenitor cells. By contrast, mammalian MG have a limited regenerative response and fail to upregulate Ascl1 after injury. To test whether ASCL1 could restore neurogenic potential to mammalian MG, we overexpressed ASCL1 in dissociated mouse MG cultures and intact retinal explants. ASCL1-infected MG upregulated retinal progenitor-specific genes and downregulated glial genes. Furthermore, ASCL1 remodeled the chromatin at its targets from a repressive to an active configuration. MG-derived progenitors differentiated into cells that exhibited neuronal morphologies, expressed retinal subtype-specific neuronal markers and displayed neuron-like physiological responses. These results indicate that a single transcription factor, ASCL1, can induce a neurogenic state in mature MG.