The role of astrocytes in optic nerve head fibrosis in glaucoma

Exp Eye Res. 2016 Jan;142:49-55. doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2015.08.014. Epub 2015 Aug 29.


Glaucoma is defined as a progressive optic neuropathy and is characterized by an irreversible loss of retinal ganglion cells. The main risk factor to develop glaucoma is an increased intraocular pressure (IOP). During the course of glaucoma structural changes in the optic nerve head (ONH) take place which lead to the characteristic excavation or cupping of the ONH. In this review we will focus on mechanisms and processes involved in structural alterations of the extracellular matrix in the lamina cribrosa (LC) of the ONH, which are associated with astrocytes. In glaucoma, a disordered deposition of elastic and collagen fibers and a typical pronounced thickening of the connective tissue septae surrounding the nerve fibers can be observed in the LC region. The remodeling process of the LC and the loss of ON axons are associated with a conversion of astrocytes from quiescent to a reactivated state. The extracellular matrix changes in the LC are thought to be due to a disturbed homeostatic balance of growth factors and the reactivated astrocytes are part of this process. Reactivated astrocytes, remodeling of the ECM within the LC and an elevated IOP are taking part in the retinal ganglion cell loss in glaucoma.

Keywords: Astrocytes; Fibrosis; Glaucoma; Growth factors; Lamina cribrosa; Optic nerve head.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Astrocytes / physiology*
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / metabolism
  • Endothelins / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / pathology*
  • Fibrosis / metabolism
  • Fibrosis / pathology*
  • Glaucoma* / metabolism
  • Glaucoma* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Optic Disk* / metabolism
  • Optic Disk* / pathology
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism


  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins
  • Endothelins
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta