Age-related retinal diseases linked to new protein discovery

protein discovery linked to age-related retinal diseasesA study in mice has uncovered the existence of a novel protein, Tmem135, that links ageing and age-related retinal diseases. This new discovery gives scientists a clearer picture of how retinal diseases come about, and how they are linked to ageing.

The protein Tmem135 was already known to scientists, having previously been linked to fat storage in the body as well as being responsible for the long life in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. Until now we haven’t known anything about its molecular function or its link to retinal ageing.

The study looked at mice with no macular degeneration symptoms and mice with symptoms. Those with macular degeneration symptoms were found to have mutations of the Tmem135 protein. The study found that irregular levels of Tmem135 is linked to macular degeneration symptoms, and can speed up ageing of the retina.

The Tmem135 protein has a role in regulating the size of mitochondria in cells – and in the retina this protein is responsible for the pace of ageing. Mutations in the protein cause the cells to age more quickly, as they have a higher sensitivity to environmental stress. The retina relies on the supply of Tmen135 to be regulated, if mutations affect this then conditions like macular degeneration can develop.

This is an important breakthrough, which greatly improves our understanding of the retina but there’s more work to be done. The researchers say further study is needed to determine what the exact biochemical function of the protein is in cell mutation. This would help them to map Tmem135’s role in accelerating the ageing of the retina, and potentially find a way to treat or prevent age-related retinal diseases.

Research like this puts us closer to finding a cure for AMD, something that the Macular Society (UK) is calling for. In the meantime patients should be made aware of the importance of screening. Learn more about this in our blog piece on the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s AMD Awareness Month, taking place this February.

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