Involvement of Caspase-7 in Photoreceptor and Retinal Ganglion Cell Death




Choudhury, Shreyasi


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Apoptosis has been implicated in retinal cell death during both retinal differentiation and degeneration. In diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and traumatic optic neuropathy, retinal cell apoptosis plays an important role. Caspases, a family of cysteine proteases, are major players of apoptosis. Thus, one obvious target for modulating apoptosis is the caspase family of proteins. The role of initiator caspases (caspase-1, -2, -8, -9) and effector caspases (caspase-3, -6) in retinal neuronal apoptosis has been studied previously. But the role of a unique effector caspase, caspase-7, has never been studied before. The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of caspase-7 in retinal neuronal cell apoptosis, especially in photoreceptor and retinal ganglion cell (RGC) death. We used the T17M RHO mouse, an animal model for Autosomal Dominant Retinitis Pigmentosa, to study photoreceptor cell apoptosis, and evaluate the role of caspase-7 in a corresponding caspase-7 knockout mouse. Our results show that morphological (evaluated by spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) and histology) and functional (by electroretinography (ERG)) degenerations in the photo-receptor cells of the T17M RHO mouse are significantly protected by knocking out caspase-7. We further discovered that caspase-7 inhibition reprograms the unfolded-protein response and reduces JNK-induced photoreceptor cell death. To assess the role of caspase-7 in RGC apoptosis, we used the mouse optic nerve crush-induced RGC death as a study model. We found that the insult activates caspase‐7 in RGCs in a time-dependent manner, concomitant with loss of the cells. We also observed the activation of calpain-1, an upstream activator of caspase-7 and the hydrolysis of caspase-7 specific substrates, confirming the involvement of caspase-7. Most importantly, in caspase--‐7 knockout mice, significantly more RGCs survive the optic nerve injury when compared to injured wild type mice as assessed morphologically (immunohistochemistry and SD-OCT) and functionally (ERG) throughout the 28-day post crush study period. Altogether, our findings indicate that caspase-7 appears to play a critical role in photoreceptor and RGC death and inhibition of caspase-7 activity may be a novel therapeutic strategy for retinal degenerative diseases.