Protecting retinal cells could save sight

November 25, 2009

A study into the process of retinal cell death could hold the key to stopping a variety of eye diseases that cause blindness, according to a report from a team of researchers from the Yale School of Medicine reported in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science.

A study into the process of retinal cell death could hold the key to stopping a variety of eye diseases that cause blindness, according to a report from a team of researchers from the Yale School of Medicine reported in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science.

The breakdown of retinal cells known as photoreceptors is common to several diseases that cause blindness. In the diseases the researchers studied the photoreceptors were dying from a variety of causes, but common to all cases was the activation of a family of molecules called CREB1/ATF1. The team then attempted to determine if the molecules were contributing to the cell death or were being activated in an attempt to prolong cell life.

Studying retinas treated with a drug known to preserve photoreceptors, the researchers found much higher levels of CREB1/ATF1, suggesting the molecules act as part of the protective mechanism.

"Not only did we find that the drug activated the novel CREB1/ATF1 photoreceptor pathway, but we found that this activation was caused by stress," said Caroline Zeiss, associate professor of comparative medicine and ophthalmology at Yale School of Medicine, USA, in a statement. "This suggests that CREB/ATF1 may be an innate protective response that could be used to achieve broad spectrum preservation of the retina."