Glaucoma is defined as a chronic and progressive optic nerve neuropathy, characterized by apoptosis of retinal ganglion cells (RGC) that leads to irreversible blindness. Ocular hypertension is a major risk factor, but in glaucoma RGC death can persist after ocular hypertension is normalized. To understand the mechanism underlying chronic RGC death we identified and characterized a gene product, alpha2-macroglobulin (alpha2M), whose expression is up-regulated early in ocular hypertension and remains up-regulated long after ocular hypertension is normalized. In ocular hypertension retinal glia up-regulate alpha2M, which binds to low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein-1 receptors in RGCs, and is neurotoxic in a paracrine fashion. Neutralization of alpha2M delayed RGC loss during ocular hypertension; whereas delivery of alpha2M to normal eyes caused progressive apoptosis of RGC mimicking glaucoma without ocular hypertension. This work adds to our understanding of the pathology and molecular mechanisms of glaucoma, and illustrates emerging paradigms for studying chronic neurodegeneration in glaucoma and perhaps other disorders.