New Study Links Glaucoma to Autoimmune Disorders

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Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) revealed that T cells that target heat shock proteins in the retina establish glaucoma as an autoimmune disorder

Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that can cause blindness. A research published by MIT and Massachusetts Eye and Ear in the journal Nature Communications on August 10, 2018 reported that glaucoma may in fact be an autoimmune disorder. Elevated pressure in the eye is one of the biggest risk factors for glaucoma and it often occurs as people age and the ducts that allow fluid to drain from the eye become blocked. Moreover, the disorder is undetectable until the loss of half of the retinal ganglion cells. Treatment includes as intraocular pressure that lowers pressure in the eye. However, intraocular pressure returns to normal after a certain duration leading to reoccurrence of the condition. The researchers studied immune responses in mouse models of glaucoma to analyze the genesis of the disease. Although T cells are normally blocked from entering the retina, the cells were observed in the immune cells of the retinas of these mice. The reason behind the presence of T cells is the increase of intraocular pressure that enable the T cells to get into the retina.

The team generated high intraocular pressure in mice that lack T cells to investigate the role of these cells in glaucoma and found that the disease did not progress any further when eye pressure returned to normal after the pressure induced only a small amount of damage to the retina. Although T cells do not target proteins produced by the host, it was observed that shock proteins— a class of protein that help cells respond to stress or injury were targeted by the glaucoma-linked T cells. The induction of glaucoma in germ-free mice models had no signs of development of the disease. Analysis of human patients with glaucoma revealed that patients had five times the normal level of T cells specific to heat shock proteins.

 

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