(RxWiki News) Researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute and four collaborating institutions have identified an unexpected biological pathway that may contribute to glaucoma.
Knowing biological pathways is important in disease research because if you know the way the disease works, you can tailor drugs and procedures to treat it; it gives you a target to attack.
The researchers unearthed insights into the cellular and molecular mechanisms at work in the optic nerve head (the first point at which cables carrying information from the eye to the brain emerge) of mice with glaucoma. There they discovered astrocytes, a unique class of cells with properties that appear to make them a critical factor in glaucoma sight loss.
At this same site, the researchers also found abnormal levels of a protein called gamma synuclein, which is related to a similar protein in which abnormal amounts are known to cause cell loss in Parkinson's disease. The study suggests a biological process similar to Parkinson's unfolds in glaucoma at this specified anatomical location, pinpointed here for the first time.
The findings give researchers several novel targets for future interventions, said Dr. Nicholas Marsh-Armstrong, senior study author and research scientist at Kennedy Krieger, who added the study results may hold important implications for Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases.
In related news, researchers at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia found that lowering intraocular pressure (pressure in the eye) appears to delay vision loss in glaucoma patients who are older and have abnormal anticardiolipin-antibody levels, two factors that appear to contribute to more rapid sight-loss in the disease.
The researchers followed 216 patients with open-angle glaucoma (the most common variant of the disease) and followed up with a standardized protocol for controlling intraocular pressure.
Glaucoma refers to a series of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve, which transfers information from the eye to the brain. Often this damage is due to increased intraocular pressure. There are four main types of glaucoma -- open-angle (chronic), angle-closure (acute), congenital and secondary -- making the disease the second leading cause of blindness in the United States. African-Americans and people over 60 are at highest risk of developing glaucoma, which usually does not present any symptoms until some vision is already lost.