The damage caused by glaucoma could be slowed or stopped with visual field tests designed to specifically probe the function of certain retinal cells, according to Professor Andrew D. Huberman, assistant professor of neurosciences, neurobiology and ophthalmology at University of California.
In a mouse model study, Professor Huberman and colleague Professor Rana N. El-Danaf identified that some types of retinal ganglion cells alter their structures within seven days of elevated eye pressure, while others do not.
“Understanding the timing and pattern of cellular changes leading to retinal ganglion cell death in glaucoma should facilitate the development of tools to detect and slow or stop those cellular changes, and ultimately preserve vision,” said Prof. Huberman.
Retinal ganglion cells are specialised neurons that send visual information from the eye’s retina to the brain. Increased pressure within the eye can contribute to retinal ganglion cell damage, leading to glaucoma. Even with pressure-lowering drugs, these cells eventually die, leading to vision loss.
Subtypes of retinal ganglion cells differ by the location in the eye to which they send the majority of their dendrites (cellular branches). Within seven days of elevated eye pressure, all retinal ganglion cells that send most or all of their dendrites to a region of the eye known as the OFF sublamina underwent significant rearrangements, such as reductions in number and length of dendritic branches. Retinal ganglion cells with connections in the ON part of the retina did not.