Purinergic signaling is centrally involved in mediating the degeneration of the injured and diseased retina, the induction of retinal gliosis, and the protection of the retinal tissue from degeneration. Dysregulated calcium signaling triggered by overactivation of P2X7 receptors is a crucial step in the induction of neuronal and microvascular cell death under pathogenic conditions like ischemia-hypoxia, elevated intraocular pressure, and diabetes, respectively. Overactivation of P2X7 plays also a pathogenic role in inherited and age-related photoreceptor cell death and in the age-related dysfunction and degeneration of the retinal pigment epithelium. Gliosis of micro- and macroglial cells, which is induced and/or modulated by purinergic signaling and associated with an impaired homeostatic support to neurons, and the ATP-mediated propagation of retinal gliosis from a focal injury into the surrounding noninjured tissue are involved in inducing secondary cell death in the retina. On the other hand, alterations in the glial metabolism of extracellular nucleotides, resulting in a decreased level of ATP and an increased level of adenosine, may be neuroprotective in the diseased retina. Purinergic signals stimulate the proliferation of retinal glial cells which contributes to glial scarring which has protective effects on retinal degeneration and adverse effects on retinal regeneration. Pharmacological modulation of purinergic receptors, e.g., inhibition of P2X and activation of adenosine receptors, may have clinical importance for the prevention of photoreceptor, neuronal, and microvascular cell death in diabetic retinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration, and glaucoma, respectively, for the clearance of retinal edema, and the inhibition of dysregulated cell proliferation in proliferative retinopathies.
This article is part of a Special Issue entitled ‘Purines in Neurodegeneration and Neuroregeneration’.