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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Mar 13;98(6):3398-403. Epub 2001 Mar 6.

Vaccination for protection of retinal ganglion cells against death from glutamate cytotoxicity and ocular hypertension: implications for glaucoma.

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  • 1Department of Neurobiology, The Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel.


Our group recently demonstrated that autoimmune T cells directed against central nervous system-associated myelin antigens protect neurons from secondary degeneration. We further showed that the synthetic peptide copolymer 1 (Cop-1), known to suppress experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, can be safely substituted for the natural myelin antigen in both passive and active immunization for neuroprotection of the injured optic nerve. Here we attempted to determine whether similar immunizations are protective from retinal ganglion cell loss resulting from a direct biochemical insult caused, for example, by glutamate (a major mediator of degeneration in acute and chronic optic nerve insults) and in a rat model of ocular hypertension. Passive immunization with T cells reactive to myelin basic protein or active immunization with myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein-derived peptide, although neuroprotective after optic nerve injury, was ineffective against glutamate toxicity in mice and rats. In contrast, the number of surviving retinal ganglion cells per square millimeter in glutamate-injected retinas was significantly larger in mice immunized 10 days previously with Cop-1 emulsified in complete Freund's adjuvant than in mice injected with PBS in the same adjuvant (2,133 +/- 270 and 1,329 +/- 121, respectively, mean +/- SEM; P < 0.02). A similar pattern was observed when mice were immunized on the day of glutamate injection (1,777 +/- 101 compared with 1,414 +/- 36; P < 0.05), but not when they were immunized 48 h later. These findings suggest that protection from glutamate toxicity requires reinforcement of the immune system by antigens that are different from those associated with myelin. The use of Cop-1 apparently circumvents this antigen specificity barrier. In the rat ocular hypertension model, which simulates glaucoma, immunization with Cop-1 significantly reduced the retinal ganglion cell loss from 27.8% +/- 6.8% to 4.3% +/- 1.6%, without affecting the intraocular pressure. This study may point the way to a therapy for glaucoma, a neurodegenerative disease of the optic nerve often associated with increased intraocular pressure, as well as for acute and chronic degenerative disorders in which glutamate is a prominent participant.

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