Purpose: Extensive cell loss in the retinal ganglion cell layer (RGCL) and the inner nuclear layer (INL) was noted in a rat model of retinal ischemia-reperfusion injury by transient elevated intraocular pressure (IOP). The possible involvement of apoptosis and caspases was examined in this model of neuronal loss.
Methods: Transient elevated IOP was induced in albino Lewis rats through the insertion of a needle into the anterior chamber connected to a saline column. Elevated IOP at 110 mm Hg was maintained for 60 minutes. Groups of animals were euthanatized at various times after reperfusion, and their retinas were evaluated by morphology, agarose gel electrophoresis of DNA, in situ terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated biotin-deoxyuridine triphosphate nick-end labeling (TUNEL), immunohistochemistry of caspases II (ICH1) and III (CPP32), and morphometry. YVAD.CMK, a tetrapeptide inhibitor of caspases, was used to examine the involvement of caspases.
Results: A marked ladder pattern in retinal DNA gel analysis, typical of internucleosomal DNA fragmentation and characteristic of apoptosis, was present 12 and 18 hours after reperfusion. Labeling of nuclei in the RGCL and the inner nuclear layer (INL) by TUNEL was noted between 8 and 18 hours after reperfusion. Histologic and ultrastructural features typical of apoptosis were also observed in the inner retina after ischemia. YVAD.CMK administered during the ischemic period inhibited apoptotic fragmentation of retinal DNA and ameliorated the tissue damage. When administered intravitreally 0, 2, or 4 hours after reperfusion, YVAD.CMK was also effective in preserving the inner retina but had no significant effect when administered 6 or 8 hours after reperfusion. The inner retina showed transient elevated immunoreactivity of caspases II and III 4 and 8 hours after reperfusion.
Conclusions: Retinal ischemia-reperfusion after transient elevated IOP induced apoptosis of cells in the retinal ganglion cell layer and the INL. Caspases may have a pivotal role in the early events of the apoptotic pathway(s). Rescue by using anti-apoptotic agents after ischemia-reperfusion is feasible.