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Immune Cells May Play Role in Glaucoma Vision Loss

■ A research team from Massachusetts Eye and Ear and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has shown that immune cells in the eye that developed in response to early exposure to bacteria are a key contributor to progressive vision loss from glaucoma. The findings, published online in Nature Communications, suggest that high pressure in the eye leads to vision loss by setting into motion an autoimmune response, similar to immune responses triggered by bacterial infections, that attacks the neurons in the eye. The discovery of these immune cells also reveals a promising new target for future therapies to be developed for the blinding condition.

“Our work shows that there is hope for finding a cure for glaucoma, or even preventing its development entirely, if we can find a way to target this pathway,” said co-senior author Dong Feng Chen, MD, PhD, a vision scientist at Mass. Eye and Ear and associate professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. “Current glaucoma therapies are designed solely to lower eye pressure; however, we’ve known that, even when patients with glaucoma are treated and their eye pressure returns to normal, they can still go on to have vision loss. Now, we know that stress from high eye pressure can initiate an immune response that triggers T cells to attack neurons in the eye.”