Primary open angle glaucoma is a common eye disease characterized by loss of the axons of the retinal ganglion cells leading to progressive loss of vision. The site of damage to the axons is at the level of the lamina cribrosa in the optic nerve head. The mechanism of axonal loss is unknown but elevated intraocular pressure and age are the most common factors associated with the disease. Previous studies in human glaucoma and in experimental glaucoma in monkeys have established a relationship between chronic elevation of intraocular pressure and remodeling of the optic nerve head tissues known clinically as cupping of the optic disc. This review focuses on the astrocytes, the major cell type in the optic nerve head. Astrocytes participate actively in the remodeling of neural tissues during development and in disease. In glaucomatous optic neuropathy, astrocytes play a major role in the remodeling of the extracellular matrix of the optic nerve head, synthesize growth factors and other cellular mediators that may affect directly, or indirectly, the axons of the retinal ganglion cells. Due to the architecture of the lamina cribrosa, formed by the cells and the fibroelastic extracellular matrix, astrocytes may respond to changes in intraocular pressure in glaucoma, leading to some of the detrimental events that underlie axonal loss and retinal ganglion cell degeneration.
Progress in Retinal and Eye Research – Elsevier
Published: May 1, 2000
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