A mouse study conducted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge and Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston suggests that the immune system — specifically, T cells — may be responsible for retina and optic nerve damage that can lead to vision loss and blindness in glaucoma. If further research confirms the finding that glaucoma is an autoimmune disease, it could lead to new treatments for the condition, which affects about 70 million people worldwide.
Glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness, usually results from elevated eye pressure (intraocular pressure or IOP) that occurs with age when the ducts allowing fluid to drain from the eyes become blocked. The condition often goes undetected until significant damage has been done and vision loss occurs. Treatment focuses on lowering eye pressure, but glaucoma is usually progressive.
The Massachusetts researchers first found T cells, which are normally blocked from entering the retina, in retinas of mice with glaucoma. Then, they conducted further studies including increasing intraocular pressure in mice without retinal T cells and attempting to induce glaucoma in germ-free mice. Finally, the researchers examined people with glaucoma and discovered T cell levels five times higher than normal.
Sourced from: Nature Communications