Elixir of youth? Key protein protects the retina

Insight into the role of a protective protein could lead to the development of new treatments for age-related diseases of the retina

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Pixabay/rony michaud

Scientists have investigated the role of a protein that protects retinal support cells in preventing age-related eye disease.

In research published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, researchers highlighted that the loss of a protein called pigment epithelium-derived factor (PEDF) may drive diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Study author, Patricia Becerra, of the National Institute for Eye Health in the US, highlighted that PEDF is known as the “youth protein” because it is present at high levels in young retinas, but declines with ageing.

"This study showed for the first time that just removing PEDF leads to a host of gene changes that mimic ageing in the retina," she said.

As part of the research, scientists observed the effects of removing the PEDF gene in mice.

They found that retinal pigment epithelium cells (RPE) were enlarged, while the cells had also turned on four genes associated with ageing.

Unprocessed lipids and other photoreceptor outer segment components had built up in the RPE layer of the retina.

These changes mirror alterations in gene expression and defects in RPE metabolism that are found in the ageing eye.

Becerra noted that researchers had previously questioned whether the loss of PEDF was caused by ageing or whether declining PEDF levels prompted ageing of the retina.

"This study, especially with the clear link to altered lipid metabolism and gene expression, indicates the loss of PEDF is a driver of ageing-related changes in the retina," Becerra said.