Glaucoma May Originate in Brain, Not Retina

Cellular Basis for Glaucoma

Researchers at Catalyst for a Cure (CFC) consortium, a division of the Glaucoma Research Foundation, have announced their continuing work in 2011: studying how and why retinal ganglion cells degenerate in people with glaucoma. Retinal ganglion cells are types of neuron located near the inner surface eye’s retina.  They receive visual images from the photoreceptors and transmit the information to the brain.

These CFC researchers are looking at the onset and progression of glaucoma at the level of the cells and molecular pathways.  They have noted that the degeneration of the retinal ganglion cells is related to the loss of connectivity that accompanies glaucoma.  According to the CFC: “These degenerative changes compromise the neuron’s ability to process and transmit visual information well before the neurons actually die.”  The team has determined that the retinal ganglion cells are particularly vulnerable early in the development of glaucoma, “when these cells are more sensitive to metabolic insults and stressors.

Glaucoma May Originate in Brain, Not Retina

Other research has suggested that glaucoma may not originate in the retina itself, but at the other end of the optic nerve located back in the middle of the brain.  In a study of rodents published in PNAS, it was found that the problem may stem from the nerve’s inability to transport impulses.  The scientists from Vanderbilt University and University of Washington say that this transport deficit seems related to the subject’s age and is not necessarily related in increased ocular pressure.  Locating glaucoma’s cause in the nerve rather than the retina may lead to new breakthroughs in glaucoma detection and therapy.