Shedding light on a potential therapy for visual degenerative disease

This image shows a cross-section of the rat retina. Müller glial cells are shown in green and their reactivity is shown in red. Image credit: Sehwon Koh, Ph.D.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in individuals aged 60 or older. No effective treatments are currently available for most of these patients, but cell transplantation-based therapies are being developed and tested in clinical trials. A new study by Regeneration Next Postdoctoral Fellow Sehwon Koh, Duke faculty member Cagla Eroglu, and colleagues is shedding light on a possible transplantation-based treatment for AMD and other diseases that cause loss of visual function.

The retina is a complex tissue in the eye that is responsible for visual function. Photoreceptors are one of the types of retinal neurons that turn light entering the eye into nerve signals. Many retinal diseases including AMD affect photoreceptors and cause them to progressively degenerate. Koh, Eroglu, and colleagues show that transplantation of umbilical cord-derived cells into the subretinal region of the eye can preserve visual function by protecting photoreceptors. They also show that the transplanted cells help to preserve neuron-to-neuron connections (synaptic connections) that transmit important information.

Koh and colleagues also examined a different type of retinal cell, the Müller glial cell, which plays an important role in supporting retinal cell health and regulating synaptic connections. The authors found that Müller glial cells become highly reactive even before photoreceptor cell death, and may contribute to cell death. The transplanted umbilical-cord derived cells secrete factors that weaken Müller glial cell reactivity, consequently improving retinal health and synaptic connections. Koh and colleagues show how subretinal transplantation could work to preserve visual function and highlight Müller Glial cells as a potential therapeutic target for the treatment of diseases like macular degeneration.

The paper was published as an early release article in the Journal of Neuroscience and can be accessed here>

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