Hypoxia-ischemia and retinal ganglion cell damage

Clin Ophthalmol. 2008 Dec;2(4):879-89. doi: 10.2147/opth.s3361.


Retinal hypoxia is the potentially blinding mechanism underlying a number of sight-threatening disorders including central retinal artery occlusion, ischemic central retinal vein thrombosis, complications of diabetic eye disease and some types of glaucoma. Hypoxia is implicated in loss of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) occurring in such conditions. RGC death occurs by apoptosis or necrosis. Hypoxia-ischemia induces the expression of hypoxia inducible factor-1alpha and its target genes such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and nitric oxide synthase (NOS). Increased production of VEGF results in disruption of the blood retinal barrier leading to retinal edema. Enhanced expression of NOS results in increased production of nitric oxide which may be toxic to the cells resulting in their death. Excess glutamate release in hypoxic-ischemic conditions causes excitotoxic damage to the RGCs through activation of ionotropic and metabotropic glutamate receptors. Activation of glutamate receptors is thought to initiate damage in the retina by a cascade of biochemical effects such as neuronal NOS activation and increase in intracellular Ca(2+) which has been described as a major contributing factor to RGC loss. Excess production of proinflammatory cytokines also mediates cell damage. Besides the above, free-radicals generated in hypoxic-ischemic conditions result in RGC loss because of an imbalance between antioxidant- and oxidant-generating systems. Although many advances have been made in understanding the mediators and mechanisms of injury, strategies to improve the damage are lacking. Measures to prevent neuronal injury have to be developed.

Keywords: glutamate receptors; neuronal injury; retina; retinal ganglion cells; retinal hypoxia.