Researchers discover stem cells in the optic nerve that enab
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Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) have for the first time identified stem cells in the region of the optic nerve, which transmits signals from the eye to the brain. Researchers believe these cells, called neural progenitor cells, are present in the optic nerve tissue at birth and remain for decades, helping to nourish the nerve fibers that form the optic nerve. Without these cells, the fibers may lose their resistance to stress, and begin to deteriorate, causing damage to the optic nerve, which may ultimately lead to glaucoma. This nerve damage is usually related to increased pressure in the eye due to a buildup of fluid that does not drain properly. Blind spots can develop in a patient's visual field that gradually widens over time.

This is the first time that neural progenitor cells have been discovered in the optic nerve. Without these cells, the nerve is unable to repair itself from damage caused by glaucoma or other conditions. This may lead to permanent vision loss and disability. The presence of neural stem/progenitor cells opens the door to new treatments to repair damage to the optic nerve, which is very exciting news. To make the research discovery, the team examined a narrow band of tissue called the optic nerve lamina. Less than 1 millimeter wide, the lamina lies between the light-sensitive retina tissue at the back of the eye and the optic nerve. The long nerve cell fibers extend from the retina through the lamina, into the optic nerve. What the researchers discovered is that the lamina progenitor cells may be responsible for insulating the fibers immediately after they leave the eye, supporting the connections between nerve cells on the pathway to the brain. The stems cells in the lamina niche bathes these neuron extensions with growth factors, as well as aiding in the formation of the insulating sheath. The researchers were able to confirm the presence of these stem cells by using antibodies and genetically modified animals that identified the specific protein markers on neuronal stem cells. This discovery may prove to be game-changing for the treatment of eye diseases that affect the optic nerve.

Source: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-07-stem-cells-optic-nerve-enable.html
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