Retinal cell survival requires an equilibrium between oxygen, reactive oxygen species, and antioxidant molecules that counteract oxidative stress damage. Oxidative stress alters cell homeostasis and elicits a protective cell response, which is most relevant in photoreceptors and retinal ganglion cells, neurons with a high metabolic rate that are continuously subject to light/oxidative stress insults. We analyze how the alteration of cellular endogenous pathways for protection against oxidative stress leads to retinal dysfunction in prevalent (age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma) as well as in rare genetic visual disorders (Retinitis pigmentosa, Leber hereditary optic neuropathy). We also highlight some of the key molecular actors and discuss potential therapies using antioxidants agents, modulators of gene expression and inducers of cytoprotective signaling pathways to treat damaging oxidative stress effects and ameliorate severe phenotypic symptoms in multifactorial and rare retinal dystrophies.
Keywords: age-related macular degeneration (AMD); glaucoma; leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON); oxidative stress damage; oxidative stress response; photoreceptors; retina; retinitis pigmentosa.