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    Stress-Induced Aging in Eye Sheds Light on Glaucoma

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    Researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) developed a mouse model of ocular hypertension to gain molecular insights into the role of age-related stress in glaucoma. They found that aging increases retinal sus­ceptibility to stress, and that chromatin alterations play an important role in the stress-induced aging of the eye.1

    “Using a new mouse model to study the molecular mechanisms of retinal aging, we showed that repetitive stress in the retina due to IOP elevation in­duces molecular changes that are sim­ilar to what happens in the aging eye,” said Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk, PhD, at UCI’s Center for Translational Vision Research. She added, “Under­standing the molecular mechanisms of stress-induced aging of the eye can help us develop drugs to prevent or treat the causes of glaucoma and other age-relat­ed eye neuropathies, rather than simply managing the symptoms.”

    Stress-induced aging in mouse eyes, indicated by death of retinal ganglion cells.

    STRESS-INDUCED RETINAL AGING. Fluorescence imaging shows significant loss of RGCs (red staining with anti-RBPMS antibody) and aging-like changes in transcriptome and epigenome after repeated mild elevation of IOP. Adapted from Fig. 4 in Santhiago M et al. Ophthalmol Science. 2023;3:100256.

    Study rationale. The researchers set out to investigate the mechanisms that promote senescence and cell death in retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), as a way of developing new strategies for preventing or treating vision loss in patients with glaucoma, Dr. Skow­ronska-Krawczyk said. “Based on our previous studies, we hypothesized that stress due to elevated IOP may acceler­ate aging in glaucomatous retinas.”

    Impact of elevated IOP. The study’s results support the researchers’ hypoth­esis. The ocular hypertension–induced stress responses were “driven by senes­cence and age-related inflammation” (also referred to as inflammaging), Dr. Skowronska-Krawcyzk said. Compared with young retinas, aged mouse retinas were more sensitive to IOP elevation and IOP-associated stress.

    The researchers also found that elevated IOP promotes age-related epigenetic remodeling, with young murine retinas showing changes typi­cally detected in older retinas. “Our find­ings suggest that even mild elevation in IOP in young retinas can accelerate the accumulation of alterations in DNA methylation and histone modification, contributing to eye aging,” Dr. Skow­ronska-Krawczyk said. These stress-in­duced epigenetic modifications can result in significant alterations in gene expression, which can ultimately lead to senescence and RGC death, she said.

    Next steps. The researchers believe that the molecular mechanisms of stress-induced aging in mice are very similar to what happens in the human eye, Dr. Skowronska-Krawzyk said.

    Next, the team is planning to per­form similar assessments in primates in collaboration with researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. Whether these mo­lecular alterations can be reversed using senolytic or anti-inflammatory drugs to prevent or treat glaucoma remains to be addressed.

    —Christos Evangelou, PhD


    1 Xu Q et al. Aging Cell. 2022;21(12):e13737.


    Relevant financial disclosures: Dr. Skowrons­ka-Krawczyk—None.

    For full disclosures and the disclosure key, see below.

    Full Financial Disclosures

    Dr. Chaudhary Bayer: C,L,S; Boehringer Ingelheim: C; Novartis: C,S; Roche: L,S.

    Dr. Santhiago Alcon: C; Ziemer: C.

    Dr. Skowronska-Krawczyk Visgenx: C.

    Disclosure Category



    Consultant/Advisor C Consultant fee, paid advisory boards, or fees for attending a meeting.
    Employee E Hired to work for compensation or received a W2 from a company.
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    Owner of company EO Ownership or controlling interest in a company, other than stock.
    Independent contractor I Contracted work, including contracted research.
    Lecture fees/Speakers bureau L Lecture fees or honoraria, travel fees or reimbursements when speaking at the invitation of a commercial company.
    Patents/Royalty P Beneficiary of patents and/or royalties for intellectual property.
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    Equity/Stock holder, public corporation US Equity ownership or stock in publicly traded firms, excluding mutual funds (listed on the stock exchange).


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