ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Using Music and Sports to Improve Kids' Asthma
Traffic, Dust Linked to Asthma in Kids
Combating Myths About Seasonal Allergies
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Acupuncture Cuts Dry Mouth in Cancer Patients
Wristbands May Lessen Nausea After Radiation
Higher Vitamin D Intake Could Cut Cancer Risk
ANIMAL CARE
Safe Toys for Dogs
Rest Easy. When It Comes to Swine Flu, Your Pet Is Safe
Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch
BONES & JOINTS
Gene Therapy May Ease Rheumatoid Arthritis
Most Kids With Type 1 Diabetes Lack Vitamin D
Alcohol Abuse Can Damage Bones
CANCER
Researchers ID Genetic Markers for Esophageal Cancer
Seaweed May Help Treat Lymphoma
Spice Compounds May Stem Tumor Growth
CAREGIVING
Depression, PTSD Common Among Lung Transplant Patient Caregivers
New Guidelines for Treating Heart Failure
Hospital Volume Imperfect Gauge of Cancer Surgery Outcomes
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
A Brisk Pace May Keep Stroke at Bay
Smog Tougher on the Obese
Mercury in Fish Linked to High Blood Pressure
COSMETIC
The Acne Drug Accutane More Than Doubles Depression Risk
Contact Lenses Boost Kids' Self-Image
Get Sugared!.... Its a sweet choice for hair removal
DENTAL, ORAL
Study Links Osteoporosis Drugs to Jaw Trouble
Obesity Boosts Gum Disease Risk
Dental Implants Need More Work Than Root Canals
DIABETES
Fish Twice a Week Cuts Diabetics' Kidney Risks
Lifestyle Factors Tied to Older Adults' Diabetes Risk
Study Shows Turmeric May Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
DIET, NUTRITION
School Meals Need to Get Healthier
Fasting on Alternate Days May Make Dieting Easier
Want to Stop Cancer? You Can, Experts Say
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Smog Standards Need Tightening, Activists Say
Climate Change Could Sting Allergy, Asthma Sufferers
Hurricane Threats: Time to Batten Down the Hatches
EYE CARE, VISION
Too Much Sun, Too Few Antioxidants Spell Eye Trouble
Green Tea May Ward Off Eye Disease
Diabetic Hispanics Missing Out on Eye Exams
FITNESS
Being Active an Hour a Day Puts Brakes on Weight Gain
Mom and Baby Alike May Benefit From Exercise
Exercise 30 Minutes a Day? Who Knew!
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
Olive Oil May Protect Against Bowel Disease
Traditional Nonsurgical GERD Treatments Not Impressive
GENERAL HEALTH
Fructose Boosts Blood Pressure, Studies Find
Treat symptoms (result of disease) or diagnose systems (cause of disease)?
Want Better Health in the New Year, Add Exercise to Your Day
HEAD & NECK
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
The Internet Is Becoming One-Stop Shopping for Health Help
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
Combating Myths About Seasonal Allergies
HEARING
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
An Apple a Day May Help Keep Heart Disease Away
Fewer Heart Attacks After England Goes Smoke-Free
Review Confirms Links Between Diet, Heart Health
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Surgical Masks Could Prevent Flu, Maybe
Older Adults May Have Some Immunity to Swine Flu
Bacterial Infections May Succumb to Honey
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Decline of Underweight Children in U.S. Continue to Fall
Childhood Dairy Intake Boosts Bone Health Later On
Teens Lose More Weight Using Healthy Strategies
MEN'S HEALTH
Soy Linked to Low Sperm Count
Could Chinese Herb Be a Natural Viagra?
Varicose Veins May Mask Larger Problem
MENTAL HEALTH
Man's Best Friend Helps Mend Broken Hearts
Psychotherapy Can Boost Happiness More Than Money
17 Ways to Create the Perfect Workday
PAIN
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Before Conceiving, Take Folic Acid for One Full Year
Pre-Pregnancy Weight Linked to Babies' Heart Problems
Sugary Colas Tied to Gestational Diabetes
SENIORS
Exercise Benefits Even the Oldest Old
More Whole Grains May Mean Less Fat
Any Old Cane Won't Do
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Lose Weight, Sleep Apnea May Improve
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
Pay Attention to Signs That Say You're Too Fatigued to Drive
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Whole Grains, Bran May Fight Hypertension in Men
Most Women With Osteoporosis Unaware of Raised Fracture Risk
Rheumatoid Arthritis Rising Among U.S. Women
Add your Article

Protein Might One Day Prevent Blindness

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Jan. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers working with mice have identified a protein that appears to prolong the lives of retinal cells in both healthy and diseased eyes.

The discovery could one day lead to treatments that would prevent blindness among people genetically predisposed to develop retinal disease, the scientists said.

The protein, known as histone deacetylase 4 (HDAC4), is naturally produced by both mice and humans and is typically involved in the regulation of bone and muscle development.

Reducing the amount of HDAC4 to below-normal levels appears to lead to premature photoreceptor cell death in healthy eyes, the study revealed. In contrast, increasing quantities of this protein to above-normal levels appears to protect the lifespan of these critical vision cells -- both in healthy mouse eyes and in those mice suffering from a genetic flaw, also present in humans, that gives rise to degenerative retinal disease.

The finding -- if replicated in people -- could ultimately lead to new interventions to prevent such disease-driven blindness, or even to the development of methods to restore lost sight to diseased retinas.

"There are some inherited genetic defects that lead to the death of the two types of photoreceptor cells in the eye that capture light, first directly killing the rod cells and then the cone cells which depend on rod cell survival," explained study author Bo Chen, a postdoctoral research fellow with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "So, this mutation eventually leads to complete blindness."

"But what we found," Chen noted, "is that we could actually promote the survival of these genetically affected photoreceptors by introducing more of this particular protein, even though the photoreceptors themselves continue to remain genetically defective."

Chen and his colleagues report their findings in the Jan. 9 issue of Science.

The findings are based solely on a series of neural cell experiments, focused on the retinal health of live mice, that were designed to assess the impact of both under-expression and overexpression of the HDAC4 protein.

Subsequent lab work led the researchers to determine that in sufficient quantities the protein indeed displays a protective effect against eye cell death and thereby has an "essential role in neuronal survival," they wrote.

Yet despite expressing enthusiasm for his current work, Chen emphasized the ongoing nature of the effort.

"Even though the genetics are the same in mice and humans, at this stage it's really very experimental," he stressed. "And much more work needs to be done before we know this will be efficacious in humans."

Nevertheless, Dr. Robert Cykiert, a clinical associate professor of ophthalmology at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, described the current work as an "impressive" effort.

"Clearly a lot of people go blind from retinal diseases," he said, noting that glaucoma and macular degeneration are two serious conditions that result from retinal cell death. "And this protein they worked with appears to be what we call neuro-protective, in that it has protective benefits on both the photoreceptor layer that gets damaged in macular degeneration as well as on the ganglion cell layer which is damaged by glaucoma. So this finding could actually turn out to be a major accomplishment, affecting a lot of patients down the road."

However, Rando Allikmets, an associate professor of ophthalmology, pathology and cell biology at Columbia University in New York City, took Chen's cue in cautioning that the true measure of the current work awaits human clinical trials.

"It's a very good study, an interesting observation and a very encouraging finding that will definitely lead to an investigation of this pathway for possible therapeutic targets," he said. "But the problem is that they have identified a protein involved with very basic functions -- including muscle development and bone growth -- so it's very difficult to predict if what they did in mice can be done in humans at all and, even if it can, if it will work in the same way."

Cykiert agreed.

"Of course, it's a mouse study," he acknowledged. "So you certainly don't know if what they've found will be reproduced in patients. And in any case, it would take 10 years to develop any drugs from this that might benefit people. So, yes, it's just a first step."

More information

For more on the causes of blindness, visit the World Health Organization.



SOURCES: Bo Chen, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Robert Cykiert, M.D., ophthalmologist and clinical associate professor, ophthalmology, New York University Langone Medical Center, New York City; Rando Allikmets, Ph.D., associate professor, ophthalmology, pathology and cell biology, Columbia University, New York City; Jan. 9, 2009, Science

Last Updated: Jan. 08, 2009

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