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Neuroscience - Ophthalmology


Environmental Enrichment Extends Photoreceptor Survival and Visual Function in a Mouse Model of Retinitis Pigmentosa
Published: Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Author: Ilaria Barone et al.

by Ilaria Barone, Elena Novelli, Ilaria Piano, Claudia Gargini, Enrica Strettoi

Slow, progressive rod degeneration followed by cone death leading to blindness is the pathological signature of all forms of human retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Therapeutic schemes based on intraocular delivery of neuroprotective agents prolong the lifetime of photoreceptors and have reached the stage of clinical trial. The success of these approaches depends upon optimization of chronic supply and appropriate combination of factors. Environmental enrichment (EE), a novel neuroprotective strategy based on enhanced motor, sensory and social stimulation, has already been shown to exert beneficial effects in animal models of various disorders of the CNS, including Alzheimer and Huntington disease. Here we report the results of prolonged exposure of rd10 mice, a mutant strain undergoing progressive photoreceptor degeneration mimicking human RP, to such an enriched environment from birth. By means of microscopy of retinal tissue, electrophysiological recordings, visual behaviour assessment and molecular analysis, we show that EE considerably preserves retinal morphology and physiology as well as visual perception over time in rd10 mutant mice. We find that protective effects of EE are accompanied by increased expression of retinal mRNAs for CNTF and mTOR, both factors known as instrumental to photoreceptor survival. Compared to other rescue approaches used in similar animal models, EE is highly effective, minimally invasive and results into a long-lasting retinal protection. These results open novel perspectives of research pointing to environmental strategies as useful tools to extend photoreceptor survival.
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