June 30, 2017

Cytokine linked to blindness

A signaling molecule called interleukin-6 may be a therapeutic target to prevent vision loss or nerve degeneration in glaucoma, Vanderbilt researchers have discovered.

by Meredith Jackson

In glaucoma, increased fluid in the eye increases intraocular pressure and damages the optic nerve, resulting in blindness.

Franklin Echevarria, Cathryn Formichella and Rebecca Sappington, Ph.D., have found a potential new therapeutic target for glaucoma treatment. Their work, published recently in Frontiers in Neuroscience, indicates that the cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) plays a major role in optic nerve degeneration and blindness.

The researchers artificially induced glaucoma in normal mice and mice lacking the gene for IL-6. The mice lacking IL-6 did not experience a loss in vision or nerve density and showed only minimal signs of nerve degeneration unlike the normal mice, which developed full glaucoma. Interestingly, the nerve cells in both normal mice and those lacking IL-6 exhibited molecular transport dysfunction, hinting that different proteins control damage to molecular transport and nerve degeneration in glaucoma.

The researchers’ findings suggest that IL-6 may be a therapeutic target to prevent vision loss or nerve degeneration in glaucoma.

The study was supported in part by National Institutes of Health grants EY020496 and EY008126.

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