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Protein protects brain cells most impacted by glaucoma

March 3, 2022

Kathryn Bollinger and Sylvia Smith, Augusta University, reported that protein sigma 1 receptor, which is known to protect cells from stress, appears key to the function and survival of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) in culture. These neurons, which carry visual signals from the eye to the brain are most impacted by glaucoma.
Glaucoma causes loss of RGCs. “Since these cells are so important for communicating the visual signals to the brain, patients can lose some or all their vision because of glaucomatous damage,” Bollinger said. 
Sigma 1 receptors are expressed on cells throughout the body, including RGCs and brain cells called astrocytes, which nourish and support neurons.
When the scientists cultured RGCs and astrocytes together in a dish, both cell types survived, unless the astrocytes were missing their sigma 1 receptor. 
“It speaks to factors that are released, but to see a difference in the absence of sigma receptor makes you really think what else is this little magical protein governing that is now lost,” says Smith, a pioneer in exploring the neuroprotective benefits of sigma 1 receptor in the eye.
More research is needed, but the researchers think drugs that activate sigma 1 receptor might protect RGCs in glaucoma patients.