Effects of acute delivery of endothelin-1 on retinal ganglion cell loss in the rat
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The vasoconstrictive peptide, Endothelin-1 (ET-1) has been found at elevated levels in glaucomatous eyes. In this study, a single 5mul intraocular injection of ET-1 was injected into the rat eye in order to characterize an in vivo retinal ganglion cell (RGC)-specific cell death model. The most effective concentration of ET-1 at inducing RGC loss at 2 weeks post-injection was determined using 5, 50 and 500mum concentrations of ET-1. The density of surviving RGCs was determined by counting Fluorogold labelled RGCs. A significant loss (25%) of RGCs was observed using only the 500mum concentration when compared to PBS-injected controls. GFAP immunohistochemistry revealed an increase in GFAP expression in Müller cell end-feet, as well as a total increase in GFAP expression (80%), following ET-1 treatment. These changes in GFAP expression are indicative of glial hyperactivity in response to stress. The specificity of ET-1 mediated cell death for RGCs was determined by measuring the changes in retinal thickness and TUNEL labeling. Retinal thickness was quantified using confocal and light microscopy. In confocal measurements, Yo Pro-1 was used to stain nuclear layers and the thickness of retinal layers determined from reconstructions. No significant loss in thickness was observed in any retinal layers. The same observations were seen in semi-thin sections when viewed by conventional transmitted light microscopy. The lack of significant thickness changes in the outer nuclear, outer plexiform or inner nuclear layer suggests that there was no significant cell loss in the retina other than in the RGC layer. Exclusive co-localization of TUNEL-labelled nuclei with Fluorogold-labelled cytoplasm provided additional evidence for RGC-specific death that most likely occurs via an apoptotic mechanism. A cell death time course was performed to determine RGC loss over time. RGC losses of 25, 25, 36 and 44% were observed at 1, 2, 3 and 4 weeks post-ET-1 injection, compared to PBS-injected controls. The total number of remaining RGC axons was determined by multiplying the number of optic nerve (ON) axons per unit area, by the cross-sectional area. There was a 31% loss in total ON axons in ET-1 treated eyes at 3 weeks post injection. Functional integrity of the visual system was determined by observing changes in the pupillary light reflex. ET-1 treatment resulted in a slowing of the pupil velocity by 31% and an average increase in the duration of contraction of 1.85sec (32% increase). These experiments provide evidence that acute ET-1 injections can produce RGC-specific cell death and many cellular changes that are similar to glaucoma. This potential glaucoma model leaves the optic nerve intact and may be used in subsequent experiments, which are involved in increasing RGC survival and functional recovery.
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