From the WUSTL Newsroom…
Working in mice, scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have devised a treatment that prevents the optic nerve injury that occurs in glaucoma, a neurodegenerative disease that is a leading cause of blindness.
Researchers increased the resistance of optic nerve cells to damage by repeatedly exposing the mice to low levels of oxygen similar to those found at high altitudes. The stress of the intermittent low-oxygen environment induces a protective response called tolerance that makes nerve cells — including those in the eye — less vulnerable to harm.
The study, published online in Molecular Medicine, is the first to show that tolerance induced by preconditioning can protect against a neurodegenerative disease.
Stress is typically thought of as a negative phenomenon, but senior author Jeffrey M. Gidday, PhD, associate professor of neurological surgery and ophthalmology, and others have previously shown that the right kinds of stress, such as exercise and low-oxygen environments, can precondition cells and induce changes that make them more resistant to injury and disease.
Scientists previously thought tolerance in the central nervous system only lasted for a few days. But last year Gidday developed a preconditioning protocol? that extended the effects of tolerance from days to months. By exposing mice to hypoxia, or low oxygen concentrations, several times over a two-week period, Gidday and colleagues triggered an extended period of tolerance. After preconditioning ended, the brain was protected from stroke damage for at least 8 weeks.
“Once we discovered tolerance could be extended, we wondered whether this protracted period of injury resistance could also protect against the slow, progressive loss of neurons that characterizes neurodegenerative diseases,” Gidday says.
For more from Michael C. Purdy of the WUSTL Newsroom, click here.