Purpose: Elevated intraocular pressure is a crucial pathologic event for the development of glaucoma (GL). We have reported that nerve growth factor (NGF) reaches retinal cells and the optic nerve (ON) when applied to the eye. Whether ocular application of NGF prevents or reduces damage to retinal ganglion cell (RGC) is not known.
Methods: GL was induced in adult rats by the injection of hypertonic saline into the episcleral vein of the right eye and the left eye used as control. Rats were then treated daily with ocular application of NGF or vehicle solution for 7 weeks. Retinal and ON tissues were then used for structural, immunohistochemical, and biochemical studies.
Results: The injection of hypertonic saline into the episcleral vein led to progressive degeneration of RGCs, with the loss of nearly 40% of these cells after 7 weeks of treatment. This cellular loss is associated with the downregulation of NGF and NGF-receptor expression in the retina and ON of the glaucomatous eye and ocular treatment with NGF significantly reduced the deficit induced by GL.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that NGF can exert protective action on RGC degeneration occurring in glaucomatous retina. We suggest that ocular NGF treatment might be a suitable pharmacologic approach to investigate protective mechanisms of degenerating RGCs.