The bidirectional water channel aquaporin 4 (AQP4) is abundantly expressed in the neural tissue. The advantages and disadvantages of AQP4 neural tissue deficiency under pathological conditions, such as inflammation, and relationship with neural diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, have been previously reported. However, the physiological functions of AQP4 are not fully understood. Here, we evaluated the role of AQP4 in the mouse retina using Aqp4 knockout (KO) mice. Aqp4 was expressed in Müller glial cells surrounding the synaptic area between photoreceptors and bipolar cells. Both scotopic and photopic electroretinograms showed hyperactive visual responses in KO mice, gradually progressing with age. Moreover, the amplitude reduction after frequent stimuli and synaptic fatigue was more severe in KO mice. Glutamine synthetase, glutamate aspartate transporter, synaptophysin, and the inward potassium channel Kir2.1, but not Kir4.1, were downregulated in KO retinas. KIR2.1 colocalized with AQP4 in Müller glial cells at the synaptic area, and its expression was affected by Aqp4 levels in primary Müller glial cell cultures. Intraocular injection of potassium in wild-type mice led to visual function hyperactivity, as observed in Aqp4 KO mice. Mitochondria molecules, such as Pgc1α and CoxIV, were downregulated, while apoptotic markers were upregulated in KO retinas. AQP4 may fine-tune synaptic activity, most likely by regulating potassium metabolism, at least in part, via collaborating with KIR2.1, and possibly indirectly regulating glutamate kinetics, to inhibit neural hyperactivity and synaptic fatigue which finally affect mitochondria and cause neurodegeneration.
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