Scientists identify molecular mechanisms causing glaucoma

In an important finding, scientists have identified two molecular level mechanisms that lead to glaucoma.

What is Glaucoma?

It is often referred to as a silent eye disease is the second most common cause of blindness in the world. It is an eye disease that causes progressive damage to the optic nerve at the point where it leaves the eye to deliver information to the brain.

Causes of Glaucoma:

Besides old age, several risk factors cause it — family history, ethnic background, high intra-ocular pressure and high blood pressure. Long-term usage of steroids could also cause the disease.

Ocular hypertension (increased pressure within the eye) is the most important risk factor in most glaucomas.

Why Glaucoma is a more serious disease than Cataract?

Unlike in cataract, which is the leading cause for blindness, loss of vision caused by glaucoma cannot be regained by therapeutic intervention.

What are the findings for Glaucoma?

Scientists at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), who studied the molecular mechanism of glaucoma in collaboration with L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad, found that mutations in certain genes are primarily responsible for glaucoma. Besides, environmental factors too contribute. One of the mutated genes causing glaucoma was OPTN which codes for protein optineurin. OPTN was one of the genes associated with glaucoma where intra-ocular pressure was not involved. An alteration in this gene (M98K) was earlier associated with glaucoma only in South Asian population. This alteration induces cell death in retinal ganglion cells.

Scientists have also enhanced the understanding of the process of autophagy, which was essential to maintain healthy cells. For instance, they were able to check cell death by blocking the enhanced activity of autophagy using chemical inhibitors.

How the findings on Glaucoma can help?

Understanding the molecular mechanism would go a long way in devising strategies for treating and preventing further damage. Scientists believe that by arresting ganglion cell death, further damage can be arrested and residual vision saved even after the onset of glaucoma.

Note: While Cataract is the leading cause of blindness in India, Glaucoma is fourth main cause.