Neuroprotection in relation to retinal ischemia and relevance to glaucoma

Surv Ophthalmol. 1999 Jun;43 Suppl 1:S102-28. doi: 10.1016/s0039-6257(99)00044-2.


Management of glaucoma is directed at the control of intraocular pressure (IOP), yet it is recognized now that increased IOP isjust an important risk factor in glaucoma. Therapy that prevents the death of ganglion cells is the main goal of treatment, but an understanding of the causes of ganglion cell death and precisely how it occurs remains speculative. Present information supports the working hypothesis that ganglion cell death may result from a particular form of ischemia. Support for this view comes from the fact that not all types of retinal ischemia lead to the pathologic findings seen in glaucomatous retinas or to cupping in the optic disk area. Moreover, in animal experiments in which ischemia is caused by elevated IOP, a retinal abnormality similar to that seen in true glaucoma is produced, whereas after occlusion of the carotid arteries a different pattern of damage is found. In ischemia, glutamate is released, and this initiates the death of neurons that contain ionotropic glutamate (NMDA) receptors. Elevated glutamate levels exist in the vitreous humor of patients with glaucoma, and NMDA receptors exist on ganglion cells and a subset of amacrine cells. Experimental studies have shown that a variety of agents can be used to prevent the death of retinal neurons (particularly ganglion cells) induced by ischemia. These agents are generally those that block NMDA receptors to prevent the action of the released glutamate or substances that interfere with the subsequent cycle of events that lead to cell death. The major causes of cell death after activation of NMDA receptors are the influx of calcium into cells and the generation of free radicals. Substances that prevent this cascade of events are, therefore, often found to act as neuroprotective agents. For a substance to have a role as a neuroprotective agent in glaucoma, it would ideally be delivered topically to the eye and used repeatedly. It is, therefore, of interest that betaxolol, a beta-blocker presently used to reduce IOP in humans, also has calcium channel-blocking functions. Moreover, experimental studies show that betaxolol is an efficient neuro protective agent against retinal ischemia in animals, when injected directly into the eye or intraperitoneally.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Calcium Channel Blockers / therapeutic use
  • Glaucoma / complications*
  • Glaucoma / drug therapy
  • Glaucoma / pathology
  • Humans
  • Intraocular Pressure
  • Ischemia / drug therapy*
  • Ischemia / etiology
  • Ischemia / pathology
  • Neuroprotective Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Retinal Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Retinal Diseases / etiology
  • Retinal Diseases / pathology
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / drug effects
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / metabolism
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / pathology
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists
  • Calcium Channel Blockers
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate