All retinal disorders, regardless of their aetiology, involve the activation of oxidative stress and apoptosis pathways. The administration of neuroprotective factors is crucial in all phases of the pathology, even when vision has been completely lost. The retina is one of the most susceptible tissues to reactive oxygen species damage. On the other hand, proper development and functioning of the retina requires a precise balance between the processes of proliferation, differentiation and programmed cell death. The life-or-death decision seems to be the result of a complex balance between pro- and anti-apoptotic signals. It has been recently shown the efficacy of natural products to slow retinal degenerative process through different pathways. In this review, we assess the neuroprotective effect of two compounds used in the ancient pharmacopoeia. On one hand, it has been demonstrated that administration of the saffron constituent safranal to P23H rats, an animal model of retinitis pigmentosa, preserves photoreceptor morphology and number, the capillary network and the visual response. On the other hand, it has been shown that systemic administration of tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA), the major component of bear bile, to P23H rats preserves cone and rod structure and function, together with their contact with postsynaptic neurons. The neuroprotective effects of safranal and TUDCA make these compounds potentially useful for therapeutic applications in retinal degenerative diseases.
Keywords: Crocus sativus; P23H; TUDCA; apoptosis; oxidative stress; retina; safranal; tauroursodeoxycholic acid.