Promoting optic nerve regeneration

Prog Retin Eye Res. 2012 Nov;31(6):688-701. doi: 10.1016/j.preteyeres.2012.06.005. Epub 2012 Jul 7.


Vision is the most important sense for humans and it is irreversibly impaired by axonal damage of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) in the optic nerve due to the lack of axonal regeneration. The failure of regeneration is partially attributable to factors located in the inhibitory environment of the forming glial scar and myelin as well as an insufficient intrinsic ability for axonal regrowth. Moreover, RGCs undergo apoptotic cell death after optic nerve injury, eliminating any chance for regeneration. In this review, we discuss the different aspects that cause regenerative failure in the optic nerve. Moreover, we describe discoveries of the last two decades demonstrating that under certain circumstances mature RGCs can be transformed into an active regenerative state allowing these neurons to survive axotomy and to regenerate axons in the injured optic nerve. In this context we focus on the role of the cytokines ciliary neutrophic factor (CNTF) and leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF), their receptors and the downstream signaling pathways. Furthermore, we discuss strategies to overcome inhibitory signaling induced by molecules associated with optic nerve myelin and the glial scar as well as the regenerative outcome after combinatorial treatments. These findings are encouraging and may open the possibility that clinically meaningful regeneration may become achievable one day in the future.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Survival
  • Humans
  • Nerve Regeneration / physiology*
  • Optic Nerve / physiology*
  • Optic Nerve Injuries / pathology
  • Optic Nerve Injuries / therapy*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology