Endothelin receptor-mediated neurodegeneration in glaucoma




McGrady, Nolan


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Primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) is a complex set of optic neuropathies which are characterized by the degeneration of the optic nerve, cupping of the optic disk and loss of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). There are approximately 3 million Americans who currently suffer from this disease although this is most likely an underestimation since many individuals with glaucoma are unaware that they have the disease. POAG is an age-related disease progressing slowly over the course of several decades and is most commonly associated with an elevation in intraocular pressure (IOP). Currently available treatments for glaucoma, both surgical and pharmacological, are solely focused on the regulation of IOP; nevertheless, some individuals continue to show progressive damage despite being on available therapies. In recent years, there has been increased momentum towards the development of neuroprotective strategies for POAG, particularly in preclinical models of glaucoma. Despite these efforts, there is still no neuroprotective treatment currently available for glaucoma patients. A potential target for the development of a neuroprotective approach is the endothelin system of peptides and their receptors. The endothelin (ET) system is composed of three vasoactive peptides (ET-1, ET-2 and ET-3) which are comprised of 21-amino acids. The peptides bind to two G-protein coupled receptors (ETA and ETB receptors) leading to activation of numerous signal transduction pathways. Although originally described for its role in the vasculature, all components of the ET system has been shown to be expressed in multiple tissues and cell types and are responsible for diverse cellular effects. Clinical studies have demonstrated an increase in ET-1 concentrations both in the aqueous humor and plasma of glaucoma patients. A previous study by our lab, using a rodent model of ocular hypertension, showed that endothelin B (ETB) receptor expression is increased when compared to control eyes and contributes to neurodegeneration (Minton et al., 2012). Preliminary data in the current study, using Brown Norway rats, demonstrated that ETA expression is also increased in the IOP elevated eyes, suggesting the possibility that the ETA receptor might also have a degenerative role during ocular hypertension. We hypothesize that the ETA expression increases following IOP elevation and contributes to the neurodegeneration of retinal ganglion cells and their axons. To test this hypothesis we employed a well-characterized in vivo model of glaucoma as well as multiple cellular and molecular approaches to understand the role of the ETA receptor in glaucomatous degeneration. Our data suggest that overexpression of the ETA receptor promotes cell death in cultured RGCs. Since both ETA and ETB receptors appear to contribute to neurodegeneration, we tested the ability of an FDA approved medication, macitentan, for neuroprotection in the Morrison model of glaucoma in rats and found it to promote RGC survival. Our studies raise the possibility of testing macitentan as a neuroprotective treatment for glaucoma patients.