Regulation of extracellular K+ and pH by polarized ion fluxes in glial cells: The retinal müller cell

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Müller cells, the principal glial cells of the retina, exhibit a high degree of functional and morphological polarization. An inward rectifying K+ channel, the dominant ion channel in Müller cells, is localized preferentially to cell endfeet, which terminate on the vitreal surface of the retina and on blood vessels. Two acid/base transport systems, an Na+/HCO3- cotransporter and a Cl-/HCO3- anion exchanger, also are localized preferentially to the endfeet. These functional specializations facilitate the ability of Müller cells to regulate extracellular ion levels in the retina. Müller cells regulate extracellular K+ levels by transporting K+ away from the neural retina to the vitreous humor and the subretinal space. Müller cells may also regulate retinal CO2 and pH by the combined action of cell carbonic anhydrase and acid/base transporters localized to the endfeet, and they may control blood flow by the depolarization-induced release of potassium and protons from cell endfeet onto blood vessels. The physiology of ion transport in CNS astrocytes is not understood as well as it is in Müller cells. The presence of inward rectifying K+ channels and acid/base transporters in astrocytes, however, suggests that these cells may utilize mechanisms similar to those of Müller cells in regulating the extracellular microenvironment and in controlling blood flow.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-117
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1996


  • Extracellular K
  • Extracellular pH
  • Glial cell
  • K channels
  • Müller cell
  • Na/HCO cotransport
  • Polarized


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