The Role of Autophagy in Age-related Eye Disease

Thomas A Ferguson, PhD Washington University


Autophagy (self-eating) is a recycling process for our cells that continuously clears damaged structures and recycles the ingredients to maintain proper cellular function. As we get older this recycling system does not work very well and this can leads to diseases of aging such as Alzheimer's and Age-related Macular Degeneration. Our studies will determine how important this process is for vision and if we can use this information to develop a new therapy to treat blinding eye disorders.

Project Details

Retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells recycle waste and deliver nutrients to the light‐detecting cells in the retina. Excessive build‐up of waste products, called drusen, happens at the beginning of dry age‐related macular degeneration (AMD). Dr. Thomas Ferguson and colleagues will be investigating whether mice that have been made to have a faulty waste recycling process—called autophagy—develop the eye disease AMD. Eyes that can't recycle are likely to show signs of aging, sensitivity to light and develop blindness at an early age as a result of the loss of this recycling. These researchers have already made mice with problems in RPE autophagy to address their questions. They will track down the amount of recycling needed to keep eyes healthy and what protein or chemical “culprits” tip the balance to increase the risk of getting AMD. If a suitable target in the autophagy process is found, they will develop a new therapy to treat AMD.