Tool from ancient pharmacopoeia prevents vision loss

Mol Vis. 2006 Dec 29:12:1706-14.


Purpose: Bear bile has been used in Asia for over 3,000 years to treat visual disorders, yet its therapeutic potential remains unexplored in Western vision research. The purpose of this study was to test whether treatment of mice undergoing retinal degeneration with tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA), a primary constituent of bear bile, alters the course of degeneration.

Methods: Two retinal degeneration models were tested: the rd10 mouse, which has a point mutation in the gene encoding the beta subunit of rod phosphodiesterase, and light induced retinal damage (LIRD). For LIRD studies, albino Balb/C adult mice were subcutaneously injected with TUDCA (500 mg/kg body weight) or vehicle (0.15 M NaHCO(3)). Sixteen h later, each mouse received repeat injections. Half of each treatment group was then placed in bright light (10,000 lux) or dim light (200 lux) for seven h. At the end of exposure, animals were transferred to their regular housing. Electroretinograms (ERGs) were assessed 24 h later, mice sacrificed, eyes embedded in paraffin and sectioned, and retina sections assayed for morphology and apoptosis by TUNEL and anti-active caspase-3 immunoreactivity via fluorescent confocal microscopy. A subset of mice were sacrificed 8 and 15 days after exposure and retina sections analyzed for morphology and apoptosis. For rd10 studies, mice were injected subcutaneously with TUDCA or vehicle at postnatal (P) days 6, 9, 12, and 15. At p18, ERGs were recorded, mice were euthanized and eyes were harvested, fixed, and processed. Retinal sections were stained (toluidine blue), and retinal cell layers morphometrically analyzed by light microscopy. Consecutive sections were analyzed for apopotosis as above.

Results: By every measure, TUDCA greatly slowed retinal degeneration in LIRD and rd10 mice. ERG a-wave and b-wave amplitudes were greater in mice treated with TUDCA compared to those treated with vehicle. Retinas of TUDCA-treated mice had thicker outer nuclear layers, more photoreceptor cells, and more fully-developed photoreceptor outer segments. Finally, TUDCA treatments dramatically suppressed signs of apoptosis in both models.

Conclusions: Systemic injection of TUDCA, a primary constituent of bear bile, profoundly suppressed apoptosis and preserved function and morphology of photoreceptor cells in two disparate mouse models of retinal degeneration. It may be that bear bile has endured so long in Asian pharmacopeias due to efficacy resulting from this anti-apoptotic and neuroprotective activity of TUDCA. These results also indicate that a systematic, clinical assessment of TUDCA may be warranted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Bile / chemistry*
  • Blindness / etiology
  • Blindness / prevention & control*
  • Cyclic Nucleotide Phosphodiesterases, Type 6
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Electroretinography
  • Injections, Subcutaneous
  • Light
  • Medicine, East Asian Traditional
  • Mice
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Phosphoric Diester Hydrolases / genetics
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / drug effects
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / pathology*
  • Retinal Degeneration / complications*
  • Retinal Degeneration / etiology
  • Retinal Degeneration / genetics
  • Retinal Degeneration / physiopathology
  • Taurochenodeoxycholic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Taurochenodeoxycholic Acid / chemical synthesis
  • Taurochenodeoxycholic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Ursidae*


  • Taurochenodeoxycholic Acid
  • ursodoxicoltaurine
  • Phosphoric Diester Hydrolases
  • Cyclic Nucleotide Phosphodiesterases, Type 6
  • Pde6b protein, mouse