Axogenic mechanism enhances retinal ganglion cell excitability during early progression in glaucoma.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 03 06; 115(10):E2393-E2402.PN
Diseases of the brain involve early axon dysfunction that often precedes outright degeneration. Pruning of dendrites and their synapses represents a potential driver of axonopathy by reducing activity. Optic nerve degeneration in glaucoma, the world's leading cause of irreversible blindness, involves early stress to retinal ganglion cell (RGC) axons from sensitivity to intraocular pressure (IOP). This sensitivity also influences survival of RGC dendrites and excitatory synapses in the retina. Here we tested in individual RGCs identified by type the relationship between dendritic organization and axon signaling to light following modest, short-term elevations in pressure. We found dendritic pruning occurred early, by 2 wk of elevation, and independent of whether the RGC responded to light onset (ON cells) or offset (OFF cells). Pruning was similarly independent of ON and OFF in the DBA/2J mouse, a chronic glaucoma model. Paradoxically, all RGCs, even those with significant pruning, demonstrated a transient increase in axon firing in response to the preferred light stimulus that occurred on a backdrop of generally enhanced excitability. The increased response was not through conventional presynaptic signaling, but rather depended on voltage-sensitive sodium channels that increased transiently in the axon. Pruning, axon dysfunction, and deficits in visual acuity did not progress between 2 and 4 wk of elevation. These results suggest neurodegeneration in glaucoma involves an early axogenic response that counters IOP-related stress to excitatory dendritic architecture to slow progression and maintain signaling to the brain. Thus, short-term exposure to elevated IOP may precondition the neural system to further insult.