Neuroserpin protects against glaucoma, study suggests

Australian researchers have made progress in understanding the mechanism of glaucoma, a common eye disease that can lead to permanent vision loss. Published online 16 August 2017 in the journal Scientific Reports, the study identifies a protein called neuroserpin that is important for a healthy retina.

The question of glaucoma has puzzled people for a long time. Many studies have shown that the disorder results in damage to the optic nerve, and this is why the patients experience vision loss and even blindness. Although older people have a higher risk of developing glaucoma, the disorder affects people of all ages. An estimated 44.7 million people worldwide had glaucoma in 2010. That number is expected to grow to 58.6 million by 2020. Currently, there is no cure for glaucoma, and even patients receiving proper treatment may experience loss of vision.

Neuroserpin is a serine protease inhibitor and is a member of the serpin superfamily of proteins, which are vulnerable to oxidation induced by environmental factors like cigarette smoke. Neuroserpin has neuroprotective effects, and it protects neurons against damage caused by plasmin activation. Recent studies have shown that administrating neuroserpin prevented loss of retinal function.

The new study is led by researchers from Macquarie University, Edith Cowan University, and Sydney University. Working with retinal and vitreous tissue samples from glaucoma patients and a rat model of experimental glaucoma, the researchers found that oxidative inactivation of neuroserpin leads to increased plasmin activity in glaucoma. The discovery provides insights into the neuroserpin and plasmin changes under pathological conditions.

Mehdi Mirzaei, an author of the study and a researcher at Macquarie University, noted that their study opens up a new area for future research into glaucoma.

Since neuroserpin has a protective effect in the retina, modifying the protein to make it resistant to oxidation may be a way to protect the retina and prevent glaucoma. Moreover, using antioxidants to inhibit oxidative inactivation of neuroserpin may be a potential therapeutic strategy. But, further experiments are needed to test these hypotheses.
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