Glaucoma is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by the loss of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). An increase in the intraocular pressure is the principal risk factor for such loss, but controlling this pressure does not always prevent glaucomatous damage. Activation of immune cells resident in the retina (microglia) may contribute to RGC death. Thus, a substance with anti-inflammatory activity may protect against RGC degeneration. This study investigated the neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects of a hydrophilic saffron extract standardized to 3% crocin content in a mouse model of unilateral, laser-induced ocular hypertension (OHT). Treatment with saffron extract decreased microglion numbers and morphological signs of their activation, including soma size and process retraction, both in OHT and in contralateral eyes. Saffron extract treatment also partially reversed OHT-induced down-regulation of P2RY12. In addition, the extract prevented retinal ganglion cell death in OHT eyes. Oral administration of saffron extract was able to decrease the neuroinflammation associated with increased intraocular pressure, preventing retinal ganglion cell death. Our findings indicate that saffron extract may exert a protective effect in glaucomatous pathology.
Keywords: Brn3a; Iba-1; P2RY12; experimental glaucoma; ganglion cells; microglia; neuroinflammation; neuroprotection; retina; saffron extract.