A retina protein that plays a crucial role for vision has been identified by scientists, the key molecular mechanisms leading to visual degeneration and blindness.
Researchers Nicolas Bazan, MD, PhD, Boyd Professor and Director of the LSU Health New Orleans Neuroscience Center of Excellence, found this for the first time. The research reveals events that may be harnessed for prevention, as well as to slow down progression of retinal degenerative diseases.
The research team found that the protein receptor for adiponectin, a hormone that promotes insulin sensitivity and is involved in the metabolic syndrome, has a heretofore unrecognized function. The receptor also regulates DHA retention and conservation in cells in the eye and is necessary for photoreceptor cell function.
Dr. Bazan, the paper's corresponding author, said that this was the first time that such an integral membrane protein has been localized in the photoreceptor cells and shown to have the capacity to support sight.
Dr. Bazan and his colleagues previously discovered neuroprotectin D1 (NPD1), one such molecule made from DHA when cell survival is compromised. Loss of, or diminished, retinal DHA leads to visual impairment and may play an important role in the development of blindness from retinitis pigmentosa and other retinal degenerative diseases, as well as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the foremost cause of blindness in people older than 50 years.
Dr. Bazan added that their model and newly discovered molecular mechanism allow therapies to be tested more rapidly. They feel an urgency to address blindness and cognition impairments of dementia because of their heavy burden on patients, families, care givers and the health care system.
DHA, found in fish oil, is an essential omega-3 fatty acid and is vital for proper brain function. It is also necessary for the development of the nervous system, including vision.
The paper is published in Nature Communications.