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Blood-Starved Retinal Cells May Regain Function

Researchers at Johns Hopkins, together with collaborators, have found that when some cells in the mouse retina are not properly fed by blood vessels, they can remain alive for many months and can later recover some or all of their normal function, suggesting that similar conditions in people may also be reversible. "This finding is intriguing," said Dr. Jeremy Nathans, senior author of the study, and a professor of molecular biology and genetics, neuroscience, and ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. "It suggests that neurons in the retina can survive for an extended period of time even though they have been functionally silenced. If the human retina responds to a decrease in blood supply in the same way that the mouse retina responds, then these results may have relevance for those patients with vision loss due to vascular defects," said Dr. Nathans. "In particular, these experiments suggest that if a region of the retina has been deprived of its normal blood supply, then completely or partially restoring that supply may also restore some visual function, even if this happens weeks or months later.” The report appeared in the October 16 issue of Cell. [Press release] [Cell abstract]