Cell Self-eating as a Protective Mechanism in Glaucoma

Paloma B Liton, PhD
Duke University Eye Center (Durham, NC, United States)

Co-Principal Investigators

Molly B Walsh, MD
Duke University
Year Awarded:
Grant Duration:
July 1, 2012 to July 31, 2015
Award Amount:
Grant Reference ID:
Award Type:
Award Region:
US Southeastern

Recipient of the Thomas R. Lee Award for National Glaucoma Research

Paloma B Liton, PhD

Autophagy and Neurodegeneration in Glaucoma


Under stress conditions, cells eat themselves to obtain the nutrients and energy required for survival. Drs. Liton, Walsh, and colleagues will investigate whether cell self-eating protects the optic nerve against the insult produced by chronic high eye pressure.


Increased eye pressure is the major risk factor for developing open-angle glaucoma, a potentially blinding disease that is characterized by irreversible damage to the optic nerve. As of today, we still do not know why increased eye pressure causes the death of the cells in the optic nerve, and how to protect them against such an insult. Recent studies suggest that autophagy, a cellular process by which cells recycle energy and nutrients, might protect cells from different types of stress. Indeed, malfunction of autophagy has been associated with several diseases, especially age-related diseases and neurodegenerative disorders.

Drs. Liton, Walsh, and colleagues are investigating whether autophagy can also protect cells in the optic nerve when subjected to high eye pressure. For this, mice with chronically induced high eye pressure to mimic human glaucoma will be used to monitor if such mechanism is activated in the optic nerve cells with elevated eye pressure. Most importantly, the scientists will monitor the extent of the damage to the optic nerve cells in mice with both a chronic high eye pressure and a defective autophagy mechanism.

If autophagy is shown to play a protective role in open-angle glaucoma, new treatments aimed at activating this cellular process could be developed for patients affected by this disease.

About the Researcher

Dr. Paloma Liton is an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Pathology at the Department of Ophthalmology at Duke University in Durham, NC. Originally from Spain, Liton completed her doctoral studies in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at the Universidad Autonoma of Madrid and decided to pursue her research career in the field of ophthalmology. She joined the Department of Ophthalmology at Duke first as a Postdoctoral Research Associate and later on as a faculty member. Liton's laboratory investigates how aging predisposes people to the development of ocular hypertension and glaucoma. In particular, Liton is using her molecular biology background to identify cellular pathways affected during aging, which might serve as a target for novel therapeutic approaches.


Hirt J, Porter K, Dixon A, McKinnon S, Liton PB. Contribution of autophagy to ocular hypertension and neurodegeneration in the DBA/2J spontaneous glaucoma mouse model. Cell Death Discov. 2018 Jul 17;5:14. doi: 10.1038/s41420-018-0077-y. eCollection 2018. PubMed PMID: 30210817; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6127277. PubMed Icon Google Scholar Icon

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