Cell transplantation to replace retinal ganglion cells faces challenges-the Switchboard Dilemma

Yuan Liu, Richard Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The mammalian retina displays incomplete intrinsic regenerative capacities; therefore, retina degeneration is a major cause of irreversible blindness such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. These diseases lead to the loss of retinal cells and serious vision loss in the late stage. Stem cell transplantation is a great promising novel treatment for these incurable retinal degenerative diseases and represents an exciting area of regenerative neurotherapy. Several suitable stem cell sources for transplantation including human embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells and adult stem cells have been identified as promising target populations. However, the retina is an elegant neuronal complex composed of various types of cells with different functions. The replacement of these different types of cells by transplantation should be addressed separately. So far, retinal pigment epithelium transplantation has achieved the most advanced stage of clinical trials, while transplantation of retinal neurons such as retinal ganglion cells and photoreceptors has been mostly studied in pre-clinical animal models. In this review, we opine on the key problems that need to be addressed before stem cells transplantation, especially for replacing injured retinal ganglion cells, may be used practically for treatment. A key problem we have called the Switchboard Dilemma is a major block to have functional retinal ganglion cell replacement. We use the public switchboard telephone network as an example to illustrate different difficulties for replacing damaged components in the retina that allow for visual signaling. Retinal ganglion cell transplantation is confronted by significant hurdles, because retinal ganglion cells receive signals from different interneurons, integrate and send signals to the correct targets of the visual system, which functions similar to the switchboard in a telephone network-therefore the Switchboard Dilemma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1138-1143
Number of pages6
JournalNeural Regeneration Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • cell transplantation
  • optic nerve regeneration
  • photoreceptors
  • retina degeneration
  • retinal ganglion cells
  • stem cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Neuroscience


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