Harnessing Exercise to Protect the Optic Nerve
Exercise is a positive lifestyle choice that reduces the risk for a wide range of diseases and conditions. Yet, the role of exercise in eye health and eye disease is largely unknown. In this project we will investigate how exercise may benefit the optic nerve, the structure joining the eye to the brain, which is primarily affected in the eye disease glaucoma. The information gained from this work will contribute to the development of new approaches for preventing or delaying optic nerve damage and subsequent vision loss in glaucoma.
The goal of our project is to understand how exercise can protect the aged optic nerve and to explore if physical activity may be used as a new approach for preventing or delaying optic nerve damage and subsequent vision loss in glaucoma patients.
Previous research from our laboratory discovered that daily exercise can robustly protect optic nerves of aged mice against injury. This suggests that the benefits of physical activity extend to the visual system and make a compelling case for further investigation of exercise as a means of protecting against optic nerve injury, dysfunction and degeneration. Specifically, several key questions remain, which we are addressing in three experimental aims.
In our first aim, we are testing the effect of forced versus voluntary exercise regimens on the prevention of optic nerve injury. Simultaneously, we are investigating if exercise can be used as both a preventative measure (applied before injury) and a therapeutic aid (applied after injury). These experiments will define the characteristics of exercise that facilitate optic nerve protection as more closely related to human exercise programs and conditions.
Although we have previously shown that exercise can protect the aged optic nerve against an acute injury, we do not know if exercise can also protect against chronic stress and degeneration, which is more akin to human disease. Our second aim is therefore to determine whether exercise can protect the aged optic nerve against long-term injury in an experimental mouse model of glaucoma. These experiments will inform on the potential of exercise to protect the optic nerve as more closely related to clinical glaucoma, which is characterized by chronic and progressive degeneration of the optic nerve.
Our final aim is to explore the biological mechanisms that underlie exercise-induced protection of the aged optic nerve. Identifying the nature and source of molecules that mediate exercise-induced protection will be critically important to the development of novel neuroprotective therapies for protecting the aged optic nerve against glaucoma and other degenerative processes.
Exercise is a positive lifestyle choice that reduces the risk for a wide range of diseases and conditions. As a therapy, exercise is cost-effective, non-invasive and safe. Yet, the role of exercise in eye health is largely unknown and exercise is not currently considered a factor for the progression of any major eye disease. This makes our current research unique, as we are proposing that exercise can be used as a preventative measure and/or therapeutic aid for an eye disease (glaucoma). Furthermore, our experiments will reveal new information about the effects of exercise on the eye and potential underlying mechanisms.
All current glaucoma treatments are directed at lowering eye pressure but this approach fails to prevent vision loss in many individuals. Novel therapies that render the aged optic nerve more resistant to injury stand to transform glaucoma management. The information gained from our study will contribute to the development of new approaches for preventing or delaying optic nerve damage and subsequent vision loss in glaucoma.
About the Researcher
Vicki Chrysostomou is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA), University of Melbourne, Australia. She completed her doctoral studies on retinal degenerative disease at The Australian National University, Canberra, in 2009. She then joined the CERA Glaucoma Research Unit, led by Professors Jonathan Crowston and Ian Trounce, which combines basic science and clinical work to translate glaucoma research from the cell and molecular level through to animal models and clinical trials. Dr. Chrysostomou's key research interest is understanding the role of aging in glaucoma and from this to develop new therapeutic targets. Her focus over the past 5 years has been to develop and lead a project investigating the impact of exercise on the aged retina and optic nerve, and its response to injury.
"Outside of my career as a medical scientist, I am a competitive runner, rock-climber and triathlete. My current research brings together two of my great passions in life: I am passionate about eye disease and studying preventive measures but, as an athlete, I am passionate about exercise. Personally, combining these two loves in life is exciting and wonderfully satisfying. I am sincerely grateful for the generous support of the BrightFocus Foundation and its donors, which has enabled me to undertake this research project and pursue my passions."
First published on: July 15, 2015
Last modified on: July 1, 2017