Apoptotic retinal ganglion cell death in the DBA/2 mouse model of glaucoma

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The DBA/2 mouse has been used as a model for spontaneous secondary glaucoma. We attempted to determine the in vivo time course and spatial distribution of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) undergoing apoptotic death in DBA/2 mice. Female DBA/2 mice, 3, 9–10, 12, 15, and 18 months of age, received intravitreal injections of Annexin-V conjugated to AlexaFluor 1 h prior to euthanasia. Retinas were fixed and flat-mounted. Annexin-V-positive RGCs in the hemiretina opposite the site of injection were counted, and their locations were recorded. Positive controls for detection of apoptotic RGCs by Annexin-V labeling included rats subjected to optic nerve ligation, and C57BL/6 mice subjected to either optic nerve ligation or intravitreal injection of NMDA. To verify that Annexin-V-labeled cells were RGCs, intravitreal Annexin-V injections were also performed on retinas pre-labeled retrogradely with FluoroGold® or with DiI. Annexin-V-positive RGC locations were analyzed to determine possible clustering and areas of preferential loss. Annexin-V labeled apoptotic RGCs in eyes after optic nerve ligation, intravitreal NMDA injection, as well as in aged DBA/2 animals. In glaucomatous DBA/2 mice 95–100% of cells labeled with Annexin-V were also FluoroGold- and DiI-positive. This confirms that Annexin-V can be used to specifically detect apoptotic RGCs in rodent retinas. In DBA/2 mice, apoptotic RGC death is maximal from the 12th to the 15th month of age (ANOVA, p < 0.001, Fisher's post hoc test) and occurs in clusters. These clusters are initially located in the midperipheral retina and progressively occur closer to the optic nerve head with increasing age. Retrograde axonal transport of FluoroGold in the glaucomatous mouse retina is functional until at least 2–3 days prior to initiation of apoptotic RGC death.

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