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Glaucoma & Radiation

Glaucoma & Radiation

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Published by Steve Matheson
A summary of new research showing that radiation treatment can eradicate glaucoma in mice. Written for Dr. Simon John of the Jackson Laboratory.
A summary of new research showing that radiation treatment can eradicate glaucoma in mice. Written for Dr. Simon John of the Jackson Laboratory.

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Steve Matheson on May 17, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Glaucoma blinds millions of people a year, but little is known of its causes. Exciting new findings, from the laboratory of Dr. Simon John at the Jackson Laboratory, pinpoint aspecific biological process as a causative agent, and suggest that a single dose of radiationdirected into the eye may protect that eye from glaucoma. For life. The research, justpublished in the
 Journal of Clinical Investigation
, provides new clues to the causes of glaucoma and points to therapeutic strategies that could be used to protect people fromsome forms of the disease.In 2005, scientists in Dr. John’s lab made a startling discovery. The group was in the midstof an experiment on mice that inherit glaucoma. They had exposed some of the mice toradiation, for the purpose of performing bone marrow transplants. Strikingly, theirradiated mice were fully protected from glaucoma. The protective treatment was 96%effective and lifelong. While it was apparent that radiation was the key factor, the scientistsdid not know how radiation exerted the protective effect, or even where the effect wasexerted. The new work published by Dr. John, with Dr. Gareth Howell as lead author,answers these questions and more.Glaucoma is a degenerative disease of the eye, in which the optic nerve is progressively destroyed, leading to blindness. The disease is complex and takes various forms. In themice studied by Howell and colleagues, pressure inside the eye becomes abnormally high,causing damage to the optic nerve, a pattern that is typical of many forms of humanglaucoma.
The new results show that a single dose of radiation protects the optic nerve from damage,even though the pressure inside the eye is still elevated. The scientists show that theprotective effect of radiation occurs in the eye itself. Working with x-ray physicists, thegroup devised an apparatus that could direct an x-ray beam into one eye of a mouse.Remarkably, this treatment could confer protection from glaucoma in that one eye; theother eye, if it was not irradiated, displayed the typical disease progression.But how does radiation do this? Howell and colleagues first examined changes in geneexpression in the optic nerve during the early stages of disease in the glaucoma-prone mice.From this large dataset, which the researchers made freely available online, they discerneda telltale pattern: genes involved in inflammation and in a particular immune process –called leukocyte transendothelial migration – were altered in a way that makesinflammation less likely in radiation-treated eyes. The process involves the migration of immune cells from the blood into a tissue. In a series of experiments, the researchersshowed that a particular type of immune cell enters the optic nerve early in glaucoma.These cells, called monocytes, specialize in early immune responses such as the engulfmentof invaders or debris and the activation of subsequent events in the immune response todamage or infection. Monocytes can also act by secreting damaging molecules to killpathogens, but the recent data strongly suggest that in glaucoma, these damagingmolecules can damage healthy cells. A single radiation treatment almost completely blocksthe migration of monocytes into the optic nerves of glaucoma-prone mice. Adding back oneof these damaging molecules caused glaucoma-like changes in irradiated eyes. Howell andcolleagues believe that infiltrating monocytes are the potential triggers of the destructiveevents that lead to glaucoma.

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