Glaucoma is a group of diseases characterized by progressive optic nerve degeneration that results in visual field loss and irreversible blindness. A crucial element in the pathophysiology of all forms of glaucoma is the death of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), a population of CNS neurons with their soma in the inner retina and axons in the optic nerve. Strategies that delay or halt RGC loss have been recognized as potentially beneficial to preserve vision in glaucoma; however, the success of these approaches depends on an in-depth understanding of the mechanisms that lead to RGC dysfunction and death. In recent years, there has been an exponential increase in valuable information regarding the molecular basis of RGC death stemming from animal models of acute and chronic optic nerve injury as well as experimental glaucoma. The emerging landscape is complex and points at a variety of molecular signals - acting alone or in cooperation - to promote RGC death. These include: axonal transport failure, neurotrophic factor deprivation, toxic pro-neurotrophins, activation of intrinsic and extrinsic apoptotic signals, mitochondrial dysfunction, excitotoxic damage, oxidative stress, misbehaving reactive glia and loss of synaptic connectivity. Collectively, this body of work has considerably updated and expanded our view of how RGCs might die in glaucoma and has revealed novel, potential targets for neuroprotection.
Copyright © 2011. Published by Elsevier Ltd.