Correlation between retinal ganglion cell death and chronically developing inherited glaucoma in a new rat mutant

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Glaucoma is a progressive optic neuropathy with characteristic optic disc changes, retinal ganglion cell loss and progressive visual field defects. Elevated intraocular pressure is considered to be a major risk factor in glaucomatous neuropathy. This study aimed to characterize and document a new chronic glaucoma model in the rat with respect to the effect of elevated intraocular pressure on overall retinal dysfunction and retinal ganglion cell loss, and to elucidate the possible mechanisms underlying this cell loss.

Intraocular pressure (IOP) was measured in rats using a Tonopen™. RGCs were retrogradely labeled with the fluorescent dye, 4-[didecylaminostyryl]-N-methyl-pyridinium-iodide (4-Di-10 ASP) and quantified on retinal flat mounts using fluorescence microscopy. The optic nerve head was examined fundoscopically. Changes in the histological appearance of the whole eyes was studied in paraffin sections, and immunohistochemistry was carried out on cryostat sections. The levels of mRNA for several genes were compared between control and glaucomatous retinae using semi-quantitative RT-PCR.

Mutant animals are affected with either a unilateral or bilateral enlargement of the globes having an IOP that ranged from 25 to 45mmHg, as compared to control values of 12–16mmHg. The IOP of glaucomatous eyes increased significantly with age to attain a value of 35±7·3 at 1·5 years. Concomitant with the rise in IOP, the number of labeled RGCs continued to decrease in number with age. A total of 1887±117 RGC mm−2 could be labeled in wild-type control and juvenile mutant pre-glaucomatous retinas, whereas this number dropped to 92±26 RGC mm−2 at 1·5 years. Ophthalmoscopy revealed atrophied optic nerve heads in the affected eyes. The pars plicata and the pars plana of the ciliary body of glaucomatous eyes were hypertrophied and elongated, respectively. The anterior chamber was narrow and the irido-corneal angle open in glaucoma eyes. The mRNA of glial-fibrillary-acidic protein, endothelin-1, STAT-3 and STAT-6 increased in the retinas correlating with the severity and duration of the disease. Changes in the expression of GFAP and endothelin-1 could be confirmed using immunohistochemistry.

This model may help to address several fundamental issues in the pathogenesis of glaucoma and aid in the development of neuroprotective strategies.

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