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Protecting Retinal Ganglion Cells

CFC Researchers (neuroprotection)
CFC Researchers (neuroprotection)

This article looks at how the Catalyst For a Cure Research Consortium is working to preserve sight and prevent vision loss in glaucoma.

The retina is a thin tissue in the back of the eye containing photoreceptor nerve cells. These nerve cells, known as retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), change the light rays that enter the eye into electrical impulses and send them through the optic nerve to the brain where images are perceived.

The cells that comprise the retina and the brain can be divided into two main classes, neurons and glial cells.

The Catalyst For a Cure (CFC) research scientists have been studying glial cells because glial cells can influence the survival of the neurons in both health and disease through the release of proteins. These proteins act as signals between glial cells and neurons, and even between different types of glial cells.

Cytokines are one such family of signaling proteins that can act to both increase and decrease the survival of neurons. In glaucoma, glial cells in the retina and optic nerve are implicated as sources of cytokines that can alter the survival of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs).

The examination of other cell types in addition to RGCs is critical to understanding and treating glaucoma in a comprehensive manner. The essential role of glial cells in supporting neurons in a healthy retina identifies these cells as potential key players in disease progression as well as in recovery.

Our work provides insight into the complex signals between the cells in the retina, and identifies the cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) as a potential protector of retinal ganglion cells in glaucoma.

Research Findings

The CFC researchers examined how elevated pressure alters the release of IL-6 from two types of glial cells in the retina, astrocyte glia and microglia. We also determined how this pressure-induced release of IL-6 influences the survival of RGCs exposed to elevated pressure.

We found that microglia-derived signals inhibit RGC death induced by pressure and that a pressure-induced increase in microglia-derived IL-6 is the main contributor to the neuro-protective effect. In contrast, astrocyte-derived signals can override the protective benefits of IL-6 and actually increase RGC death induced by elevated pressure.



Article by Rebecca Sappington, PhD. This article summarizes published findings in the July, 2006 edition of Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science (IOVS): “Interleukin-6 protects retinal ganglion cells from pressure-induced death” by Rebecca Sappington, Matilda Chan, and David Calkins.

Last reviewed on October 29, 2017

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