Researchers increased the resistance of optic nerve cells to damage by repeatedly exposing the mice to low levels of oxygen similar to those found at high altitudes. The stress of the intermittent low-oxygen environment induces a protective response called tolerance that makes nerve cells — including those in the eye — less vulnerable to harm.
The study, published online in Molecular Medicine, is the first to show that tolerance induced by preconditioning can protect against a neurodegenerative disease.
Stress is typically thought of as a negative phenomenon, but senior author Jeffrey M. Gidday, PhD, associate professor of neurological surgery and ophthalmology, and others have previously shown that the right kinds of stress, such as exercise and low-oxygen environments, can precondition cells and induce changes that make them more resistant to injury and disease.
Scientists previously thought tolerance in the central nervous system only lasted for a few days. But last year Gidday developed a preconditioning protocol that extended the effects of tolerance from days to months. By exposing mice to hypoxia, or low oxygen concentrations, several times over a two-week period, Gidday and colleagues triggered an extended period of tolerance. After preconditioning ended, the brain was protected from stroke damage for at least 8 weeks.
"Once we discovered tolerance could be extended, we wondered whether this protracted period of injury resistance could also protect against the slow, progressive loss of neurons that characterizes neurodegenerative diseases," Gidday says.
To find out, Gidday turned to an animal model of glaucoma, a condition linked to increases in the pressure of the fluid that fills the eye. The only treatments for glaucoma are drugs that reduce this pressure; there are no therapies designed to protect the retina and optic nerves from harm.
Scientists classify glaucoma as a neurodegenerative disease based on how slowly and progressively it kills retinal ganglion cells. The bodies of these cells are located in the retina of the eye; their branches or axons come together in bundles and form the optic nerves. Scientists don't know if damage begins in the bodies or axons of the cells, but as more and more retinal ganglion cells die, patients experience peripheral vision loss and eventually become blind.
For the new study, Yanli Zhu, MD, research instructor in neurosurgery, induced glaucoma in mice by tying off vessels that normally allow fluid to drain from the eye. This causes pressure in the eye to increase. Zhu then assessed how many cell bodies and axons of retinal ganglion cells were intact after three or 10 weeks.
The investigators found that normal mice lost an average of 30 percent of their retinal ganglion cell bodies after 10 weeks of glaucoma. But mice that received the preconditioning before glaucoma-inducing surgery lost only 3 percent of retinal ganglion cell bodies.
"We also showed that preconditioned mice lost significantly fewer retinal ganglion cell axons," Zhu says.
Gidday is currently investigating which genes are activated or repressed by preconditioning. He hopes to identify the changes in gene activity that make cells resistant to damage.
"Previous research has shown that there are literally hundreds of survival genes built into our DNA that are normally inactive," Gidday says. "When these genes are activated, the proteins they encode can make cells much less vulnerable to a variety of injuries."
Identifying specific survival genes should help scientists develop drugs that can activate them, according to Gidday.
Neurologists are currently conducting clinical trials to see if stress-induced tolerance can reduce brain damage after acute injuries like stroke, subarachnoid hemorrhage or trauma.
Gidday hopes his new finding will promote studies of tolerance's potential usefulness in animal models of Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative conditions."Neurons in the central nervous system appear to be hard-wired for survival," Gidday says. "This is one of the first steps in establishing a framework for how we can take advantage of that metaphorical wiring and use positive stress to help treat a variety of neurological diseases."
This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the American Health Assistance Foundation, the National Glaucoma Foundation, the NIH Neuroscience Blueprint Core Grant and the Spastic Paralysis Research Foundation of the Illinois-Eastern Iowa District of Kiwanis International.
Washington University School of Medicine's 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.
Michael C. Purdy | EurekAlert!
Further reports about: > Gates Foundation > Medicine > Molecular Target > central nervous system > degenerative disease > ganglion cells > health services > ice lost > nerve cell > nervous system > neurodegenerative disease > neurological disease > optic nerve > oxygen concentration > oxygen environment
A 'half-hearted' solution to one-sided heart failure
24.11.2017 | Boston Children's Hospital
New study points the way to therapy for rare cancer that targets the young
22.11.2017 | Rockefeller University
High-precision measurement of the g-factor eleven times more precise than before / Results indicate a strong similarity between protons and antiprotons
The magnetic moment of an individual proton is inconceivably small, but can still be quantified. The basis for undertaking this measurement was laid over ten...
Heat from the friction of rocks caused by tidal forces could be the “engine” for the hydrothermal activity on Saturn's moon Enceladus. This presupposes that...
The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.
Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
24.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.11.2017 | Health and Medicine
24.11.2017 | Earth Sciences