Glaucoma May Be Linked to the Immune System


A new US study has found that glaucoma could be linked to a disorder in the immune system.

The discovery could lead to new, more effective treatments for the common eye condition that can cause sight loss.

Optic nerve damage

Glaucoma is an eye condition that affects around 2% of the UK population over the age of 40. It happens when the optic nerve (which connects the eye to the brain) is damaged. It is usually caused by fluid building up in the eye, which increases the pressure inside the eye.

Symptoms develop over time and it can lead to sight loss if it isn’t treated.


It is not always understood why someone gets glaucoma, although it is more likely if someone in a person’s family has it, and it is more common as people get older.

New research from the US has uncovered what may trigger the build up of pressure in the eye and cause glaucoma.

Immune cells

In a study of mice, researchers from Massachusetts Eye and Ear, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that some immune cells (T cells) that are normally not able to enter the eye are able to get through and damage the cells in the retina of the eye.

The researchers found that these immune cells are five times more common in people with glaucoma, compared to those without.

The discovery led the scientists to believe that glaucoma could be caused by the body’s immune system attacking the cells in the eye because it mistakenly thinks there is a bacterial infection.

New developments

Current treatments for glaucoma focus on lowering pressure in the eye, but it is found that even when the pressure is lowered, some people still find their symptoms get worse.

This discovery of the link between the immune system and glaucoma could mean that new approaches to preventing and treating the condition could be developed – ones that block this autoimmune activity.

Dr Dong Feng Chen, one the study authors, said: “Our work shows that there is hope for finding a cure for glaucoma, or even preventing its development entirely, if we can find a way to target this pathway.”

The researchers are also investigating whether this same immune system process could be behind other disorders that impact the brain, for example Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.


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