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Autophagy deficiency protects against ocular hypertension and neurodegeneration in experimental and spontaneous glaucoma mouse models

Angela Dixon, Myoung Sup Shim, April Nettesheim, Aislyn Coyne, Chien-Chia Su, Haiyan Gong & Paloma B. Liton

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that leads to chronic degeneration of retinal ganglion cell (RGC) axons and progressive loss of RGCs, resulting in vision loss. While aging and elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) have been identified as the main contributing factors to glaucoma, the molecular mechanisms and signaling pathways triggering RGC death and axonal degeneration are not fully understood. Previous studies in our laboratory found that overactivation of autophagy in DBA/2J::GFP-LC3 mice led to RGC death and optic nerve degeneration with glaucomatous IOP elevation. We found similar findings in aging GFP-LC3 mice subjected to chronic IOP elevation. Here, we further investigated the impact of autophagy deficiency on autophagy-deficient DBA/2J-Atg4bko and DBA/2J-Atg4b+/− mice, generated in our laboratory via CRISPR/Cas9 technology; as well as in Atg4bko mice subjected to the experimental TGFβ2 chronic ocular hypertensive model. Our data shows that, in contrast to DBA/2J and DBA/2J-Atg4b+/− littermates, DBA/2J-Atg4bko mice do not develop glaucomatous IOP elevation. Atg4b deficiency also protected against glaucomatous IOP elevation in the experimental TGFβ2 chronic ocular hypertensive model. Atg4 deletion did not compromise RGC or optic nerve survival in Atg4bko mice. Moreover, our results indicate a protective role of autophagy deficiency against RGC death and ON atrophy in the hypertensive DBA/2J-Atg4b+/− mice. Together, our data suggests a pathogenic role of autophagy activation in ocular hypertension and glaucoma.

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