Exfoliation Syndrome: A Disease of Autophagy and LOXL1 Proteopathy

J Glaucoma. 2018 Jul;27 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S44-S53. doi: 10.1097/IJG.0000000000000919.


Exfoliation syndrome (XFS) is an age-related disease involving the deposition of aggregated fibrillar material (exfoliation material) at extracellular matrices in tissues that synthesize elastic fibers. Its main morbidity is in the eye, where exfoliation material accumulations form on the surface of the ciliary body, iris, and lens. Exfoliation glaucoma (XFG) occurs in a high proportion of persons with XFS and can be a rapidly progressing disease. Worldwide, XFG accounts for about 25% of open-angle glaucoma cases. XFS and XFG show a sharp age-dependence, similarly to the many age-related diseases classified as aggregopathies. Progress in understanding the cellular bases for XFS/XFG has been slowed by a lack of experimental models. Working with primary human tenon fibroblasts (TF) derived from trabeculectomies of XFG patients and age-matched primary open-glaucoma controls, we found that TF from XFG cells display many of the functional features observed in cells from other protein aggregate diseases, such as Parkinson, Alzheimer, Huntington, and age-related macular degeneration. We have documented defects in lysosomal positioning, microtubule organization, autophagy processing rate, and mitochondrial health. In regard to failure of lysosomal and autophagosome positioning in XFG cells, we have found that XFG TF are unable to establish the transnuclear microtubule organizing center that is required for efficient centripetal vesicular locomotion along microtubules. In regard to potential sources of the autophagy malfunction, we have directed our attention to a potential role of the lysyl oxidase-like 1 protein (LOXL1), the elastic fiber catalyst that displays variant-dependent association with risk for XFG. Our experiments show that (a) in XFG cells, a substantial fraction of LOXL1 is processed for degradation by the autophagic system; (b) most of the LOXL1 N-terminus domain exists in a highly disordered state, a condition known to greatly increase the frequency of polypeptide misfolding; (c) that maximum misfolding occurs at amino acid position 153, the location of the high risk variant G153D; and (d) that replacement of glycine (G) by aspartate (D) there results in a substantial decrease in disorder within the 20 amino acid surrounding domain. Finally, we show that clusterin, a protein that can be induced by the presence of intracellular, or extracellular aggregates, is uniformly overexpressed in XFG TF. The implications of our results for a theory relating XFG to cellular aggregopathy are discussed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Oxidoreductases / metabolism*
  • Anterior Eye Segment / pathology
  • Autophagy*
  • Exfoliation Syndrome / enzymology*
  • Exfoliation Syndrome / pathology
  • Extracellular Matrix / pathology
  • Glaucoma, Open-Angle / enzymology*
  • Glaucoma, Open-Angle / pathology
  • Humans
  • Protein Aggregates


  • Protein Aggregates
  • Amino Acid Oxidoreductases
  • LOXL1 protein, human