Washington, Jan 4 (ANI): Researchers have identified a new and unexpected biological pathway that apparently contributes to the development of glaucoma and its resulting vision loss.
Prior research has suggested that the optic nerve head, the point where the cables that carry information from the eye to the brain first exit the eye, plays a role in glaucoma.
In the latest study, researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute and four collaborating institutions researchers reported a series of findings that offer novel insights into cellular and molecular mechanisms operating at the optic nerve head in two mouse models of glaucoma.
Most importantly, they have discovered that at a specific location within the optic nerve head, there is a unique class of cells called astrocytes that demonstrate properties that appear to make them a critical factor in the visual blinding that occurs in glaucoma.
Researchers have also found abnormal forms of a protein called gamma synuclein that is similar to abnormal forms of alpha synuclein, a related protein known for its key role in cell loss in Parkinson's disease.
The findings have suggested that a biological process similar to Parkinson's disease unfolds in glaucoma at the specific anatomical location pinpointed in this study for the first time.
Finally, researchers discovered that at this anatomical location, there is a surprising process whereby astrocytes remove the debris of neurons, the cells that die in neurodegenerative disorders such as glaucoma.
It is likely that this newly discovered process involving removal of the debris of one cell by a neighboring cell is important not only in glaucoma and Parkinson's disease, but also for many neurodegenerative diseases.
"I believe these findings put us on the cusp of discovering a treatment for glaucoma that may also have relevance for a number of other neurodegenerative diseases," said Nicholas Marsh-Armstrong, senior study author and a research scientist at Kennedy Krieger Institute.
The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)