Naturally occurring molecules known as lipid mediators have the potential to halt the progression of glaucoma according to Vision scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Toronto. At present, there is no cure for glaucoma, which is estimated to affect 80 million people worldwide.
“Not only could this discovery lead to drugs to treat glaucoma, but the same mechanism, and options for prevention, may be applicable to other neurodegenerative diseases,” said study senior author Professor Karsten Gronert from UC Berkeley.
Using rodent models, Gronert and colleagues found that inflammation-regulating lipid mediators known as lipoxins, secreted from star-shaped cells known as astrocytes, stopped the degeneration of retinal ganglion cells in rats and mice with glaucoma. Ganglion cells are the neurons of the retina and optic nerve that receive information from photoreceptors.
“We’ve taken something everyone assumed was anti-inflammatory, and found that these same small molecules play a key role in neuroprotection, which is really exciting,” said study cosenior author Professor John Flanagan, dean of optometry at UC Berkeley.
Specifically, researchers found that astrocytes, which help maintain brain function and form the nerve fibre layer of the retina and optic nerve, release therapeutic biological agents known as lipoxins A4 and B4, but only when the astrocytes are at rest and maintaining nerve function. Their findings were published Nov. 6 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.