Friday, November 21, 2014

New Insight into Common Cause of Blindness

News Brief by Alice Chan

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is one of the most common causes for blindness for approximately 50 million people in the world. Previous research has determined that certain genes raise the risk of genetic susceptibility to AMD. One particular gene is called complement factor H (CFH), which encodes a protein called factor H (FH) that protects the eyes from damage inflicted by the complement system (which is a part of the immune system).

However, researchers at the University of Manchester’s Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences have recently discovered that a different protein, factor H-like protein 1 (FHL-1), in the CFH gene is actually responsible for protecting the back of the eye from attacks from the complement system. Their research indicates that insufficient FHL-1 may cause inflammation that subsequently leads to blindness or AMD.

Interestingly, the FH protein and FHL-1 protein are very similar in size and shape. Dr. Simon Clark, a Medical Research Council Career Development Fellow, describes FHL-1 as “a smaller version of FH…about a third of the size” and “can get into structures of the back of the eye which cannot be reached by the larger FH.” Although both proteins originate from the CFH gene, FHL-1 has a unique “tail” structure that affects the way it can bind to human eye tissue.

In its manuscript in the Journal of Immunology, the research team highlights its work with reference to the use of donated human eye tissue and with a sense of direction for further research. Dr. Clark explains that, “this work has identified a new target for therapeutics aimed at readdressing immune imbalance in the eye, thereby preventing or slowing down AMD.”

Manchester University. "New insight into common cause of blindness." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 November 2014 .

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