Purpose: Elevated levels of extracellular glutamate have been implicated in the pathophysiology of neuronal loss in both central nervous system and ophthalmic disorders, including glaucoma. This increase in glutamate may result from a failure of glutamate transporters (molecules that ordinarily regulate extracellular glutamate; E:xcitatory A:mino A:cid T:ransporter; EAAT). Elevated glutamate levels can also lead to alterations in glutamate receptor expression. It was hypothesized that selective blockade of glutamate transporters would be toxic to retinal ganglion cells.
Methods: Glutamate transporters were blocked either pharmacologically or with subtype-specific antisense oligonucleotides against EAAT1. Glutamate levels, transporter levels and ganglion cell survival were assayed.
Results: Pharmacological inhibition of glutamate transporters with either an EAAT2 specific inhibitor or a nonspecific inhibitor of all the subtypes of transporters was toxic to ganglion cells. Treatment with oligonucleotides against the glutamate transporter EAAT1 decreased the levels of expression of the transporter, increased vitreal glutamate, and was toxic to ganglion cells.
Conclusions: These results demonstrate that normal function of EAAT1 and EAAT2 is necessary for retinal ganglion cell survival and plays an important role in retinal excitotoxicity. Manipulation of retinal glutamate transporter expression may become a useful tool in understanding retinal neuronal loss.