New mechanism can cause blindness

16 October 2014

A study at the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM) has found a group of proteins in the retina that can trigger blindness. This finding could lead to better treatment and preventative measures in diseases affecting the eye.

Dr Michel Cayouette, director of the cellular neurobiology research unit at the IRCM, led the study that identified a protein, which is essential for the function and survival of light-sensing cells needed for sight.

Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the study focused on a process called compartmentalisation, which establishes and maintains different compartments within a cell. Each of these has its own set of proteins and keeping them in compartments is crucial for neurons to function properly.

Photoreceptors of the retina are an example of compartmentalisation, with each being made of different parts containing specific proteins essential for vision.

The team aimed to better understand how compartmentalisation is achieved within photoreceptor cells. According to Dr Cayouette, their work identified a protein called Numb that explains this process, as it directs other proteins to the appropriate compartments.

“We demonstrated that in the absence of Numb, photoreceptors are unable to send a molecule essential for vision to the correct compartment, which causes the cells to progressively degenerate and ultimately die,” added Dr Vasanth Ramamurthy, first author of the research. 

Posted by Philip Briggs​


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