Under pressure: cellular and molecular responses during glaucoma, a common neurodegeneration with axonopathy

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2012;35:153-79. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.051508.135728. Epub 2012 Apr 12.


Glaucoma is a complex neurodegenerative disorder that is expected to affect 80 million people by the end of this decade. Retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) are the most affected cell type and progressively degenerate over the course of the disease. RGC axons exit the eye and enter the optic nerve by passing through the optic nerve head (ONH). The ONH is an important site of initial damage in glaucoma. Higher intraocular pressure (IOP) is an important risk factor for glaucoma, but the molecular links between elevated IOP and axon damage in the ONH are poorly defined. In this review and focusing primarily on the ONH, we discuss recent studies that have contributed to understanding the etiology and pathogenesis of glaucoma. We also identify areas that require further investigation and focus on mechanisms identified in other neurodegenerations that may contribute to RGC dysfunction and demise in glaucoma.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / metabolism
  • Axons / pathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Expression
  • Glaucoma / etiology
  • Glaucoma / metabolism
  • Glaucoma / pathology*
  • Glaucoma / physiopathology
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Intraocular Pressure / physiology
  • Nerve Degeneration / pathology*
  • Optic Disk / pathology*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / pathology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Wallerian Degeneration / pathology