Their research focused on the role of retinal astrocytes — cells that are found in the retina and optic nerve — which are important for developing and maintaining healthy eyes. They discovered that retinal astrocytes release powerful molecules called lipoxins A4 and B4 that act locally to dampen inflammation and help coordinate protective signaling for neurons in the eye. Surprisingly, they determined that astrocytes produce less of these lipoxins in eyes affected by glaucoma.
“Our research discovered that astrocytes that are triggered by injury actually turn off novel neuroprotective signals that prevent optic nerve damage,” explained study senior author John Flanagan, OD, PhD, professor and dean of optometry at UC Berkeley, in a recent news release.
The research team then tested the most promising lipoxin B4 as a therapy. Rodents were treated with lipoxin B4 eight weeks after developing glaucoma-like effects — the critical time point when the neurodegeneration typically becomes irreversible. After 15 weeks, they found that lipoxin B4 stopped the cells’ neurodegeneration.
Based on these encouraging results, the Berkeley researchers plan to further explore the therapeutic potential of these lipoxins for glaucoma and other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.