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Mitochondria & Lipids—Pathways to Glaucoma Treatments

Posted by Ilena Di Toro | Posted on July 18, 2023

Over 200,000 people in the U.S. are affected by glaucoma. Current treatments for the disease include prescription eye drops, oral medication, laser treatment, surgery, or a combination of these things. The treatments don’t reverse the damage caused by the disease. However, if treatment is started in the early stage, vision loss can be slowed down or possibly prevented. Research at Mount Sinai and Indiana University School of Medicine on two aspects of glaucoma found potential treatments for this disease.

Scientists at the Indiana University School of Medicine learned that neurons use the mitochondria for a regular source of energy. So, restoring mitochondrial homeostasis in diseased neurons can protect the optic nerve cells from damage. In this study, researchers induced pluripotent stem cells from patients with and without glaucoma. They also used genetically engineered human embryonic stem cells that have the glaucoma mutation. Through the use of electron microscopes, scientist were able to identify cells that had a mitochondrial deficiency, which led to damage and eventual decaying of the mitochondria.

Researchers found that the retinal ganglion cells with glaucoma produced more adenosine triphosphate, the cell’s energy source, when there were fewer mitochondrion. Additionally, when triggered to make more mitochondria, the load of adenosine triphosphate production was distributed among a greater number of mitochondria. This restored the form and function of the organelle, suggesting that damage and decay can reversed by improving mitochondrial propagation through the use of a pharmacological agent.

Lipids are molecules that consist of hydrocarbons and make up the building blocks of the structure and function of living cells. When they don’t function properly, problems such as primary open-angle glaucoma, can occur. Research at Mount Sinai investigated how patients with certain types of lipids could be at higher risk for developing eye diseases like primary open-angle glaucoma.

Researchers collected blood samples starting in 1989 from subject in the “Nurses’ Health Studies” and “Health Professionals’ Follow-Up Study”. The subjects were followed over the years allowing researchers to identify which ones developed primary open-angle glaucoma. Control subjects were then selected to match the glaucoma subjects for age, sex and other factors.

Scientists found that higher levels of diglycerides and triglycerides lipid types were associated with an increased risk of primary open-angle glaucoma. Since little is known about primary open-angle glaucoma, the discovery of these lipid biomarkers may lead to new treatments for this kind of glaucoma. In particular, it is possible that statins could be used to correct the high levels of diglycerides and triglycerides lipids and lower the risk of glaucoma.

More research needs to be done to learn more about lipid and glaucoma, specifically to see if the associations may be increased in individuals with a higher genetic predisposition to glaucoma. There are two glaucoma genes ABCA1 and CAV1/2 that are involved with lipid metabolism. Since the elevated lipids come before the diagnoses of glaucoma, researchers believe they could serve as markers for the disease.

Mitochondria and lipids aren’t top of mind when it comes to glaucoma. Research shows that they can be a pathway to the development of treatments that improve outcomes for persons with glaucoma.


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