Background: Glaucoma is a leading cause of irreversible blindness manifesting as an age-related, progressive optic neuropathy with associated retinal ganglion cell (RGC) loss. Mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs: p42/44 MAPK, SAPK/JNK, p38 MAPK) are activated in various retinal disease models and likely contribute to the mechanisms of RGC death. Although MAPKs play roles in the development of retinal pathology, their action in the optic nerve head (ONH), where the initial insult to RGC axons likely resides in glaucoma, remains unexplored.
Methods: An experimental paradigm representing glaucoma was established by induction of chronic ocular hypertension (OHT) via laser-induced coagulation of the trabecular meshwork in Sprague-Dawley rats. MAPKs were subsequently investigated over the following days for expression and activity alterations, using RT-PCR, immunohistochemistry and Western immunoblot.
Results: p42/44 MAPK expression was unaltered after intraocular pressure (IOP) elevation, but there was a significant activation of this enzyme in ONH astrocytes after 6–24 h. Activated SAPK/JNK isoforms were present throughout healthy RGC axons but after IOP elevation or optic nerve crush, they both accumulated at the ONH, likely due to RGC axon transport disruption, and were subject to additional activation. p38 MAPK was expressed by a population of microglia which were significantly more populous following IOP elevation. However it was only significantly activated in microglia after 3 days, and then only in the ONH and optic nerve; in the retina it was solely activated in RGC perikarya.
Conclusions: In conclusion, each of the MAPKs showed a specific spatio-temporal expression and activation pattern in the retina, ONH and optic nerve as a result of IOP elevation. These findings likely reflect the roles of the individual enzymes, and the cells in which they reside, in the developing pathology following IOP elevation. These data have implications for understanding the mechanisms of ocular pathology in diseases such as glaucoma.