Caspase inhibitors block the retinal ganglion cell death following optic nerve transection

Brain Res Mol Brain Res. 1999 Apr 6;67(1):36-45. doi: 10.1016/s0169-328x(99)00032-7.


Retinal ganglion cells die by apoptosis following axotomy. The molecular mechanisms of the retinal ganglion cell death are not well understood. In the present study using RT-PCR and in situ hybridization techniques we demonstrated that levels of mRNA for Bcl-2 and Bcl-x decreased after axotomy. Bax levels remained high until 4 days after axotomy, decreased by day 7 and remained low up to day 10. CPP32 levels increased at day 7 and remained high after optic nerve cut. We studied whether inhibitors of CPP32/caspase would save the axotomy induced ganglion cell death. DEVD-CHO (Ac-Asp-Glu-Val-aspartic acid aldehyde) and DEVD-FMK (Z-Asp-Glu-Val-Asp-FMK), caspase inhibitors, when administered intraocularly at the time of optic nerve cut, at days 3 and 7 protect about 30-35% the ganglion cells from death. We further demonstrated that the number of reactive microglia decrease in the retina when the inhibitors were given as compared with retina where no inhibitors were given. The present data offers new avenues for studying the complex interactions between the retinal ganglion cell death and the activation of resident microglia/macrophages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Axotomy
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspase Inhibitors*
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • DNA Primers
  • Enzyme Precursors / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Female
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Gene Expression / physiology
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Microglia / enzymology
  • Oligopeptides / pharmacology
  • Optic Nerve / cytology
  • Optic Nerve / enzymology*
  • Optic Nerve / surgery
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / genetics
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / cytology*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / enzymology
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • bcl-X Protein


  • Bax protein, rat
  • Bcl2l1 protein, rat
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Cysteine Proteinase Inhibitors
  • DNA Primers
  • Enzyme Precursors
  • Oligopeptides
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • acetyl-aspartyl-glutamyl-valyl-aspartal
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • bcl-X Protein
  • benzoylcarbonyl-aspartyl-glutamyl-valyl-aspartyl-fluoromethyl ketone
  • Casp3 protein, rat
  • Caspase 3