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Eye canal insights and importance for glaucoma
New insights into a specialised eye structure called the Schlemm’s canal may be critical in advancing research on the blinding eye disease glaucoma, which affects over 70 million people globally. The insights are presented in a new study from a research team based in Jackson Laboratory and in Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, published today in the journal PLoS Biology.

Schlemm’s canal, essentially a tube lined with endothelial cells, is vital for control of eye fluid flow and of intraocular pressure. It is directly implicated in glaucoma. However, its role is poorly understood. In the current study, the researchers used mouse models engineered to express fluorescent proteins and developed a ‘whole mount’, three-dimensional approach to the study of these animals. Using this novel methodology, they were able to observe how the Schlemm’s canal forms and both in regard to the eye and to adjacent tissues.

As a result of the study, the researchers identified a unique vascular development process they called ‘canalogenesis’ which combines elements of angiogenesis, vasculogenesis and lymphangiogenesis but also novel features that distinguishes it from all of them. They also identified a vascular endothelial growth factor receptor, a receptor tyrosine kinase called kinase insert domain receptor, as functionally important in early Schlemm’s canal development.

Another important finding was that the endothelial cells (SECs) lining the Schlemm’s canal were shown to have properties of blood and lymphatic endothelial cells. First author Dr Krishnakumar Kizhatil, an associate research scientist in the laboratory of JAX Professor and Howard Hughes Medical Investigator Dr Simon John explains the significance of this finding “Thus, Schlemm’s canal is a unique vessel with endothelial cells that are highly specialized for its complex functions…This resolves a long-standing controversy about the cellular phenotype of SECs.”

Co-author Dr Jeffrey Marchant of Tufts concludes: “This study lays a critical new foundation for determining the functions of Schlemm’s canal both in maintaining ocular health and when things go wrong in glaucoma.”

News source: PLOS Biology

News reference: Kizhatil K, Ryan M, Marchant JK, Henrich S, John SWM (2014) Schlemm’s Canal Is a Unique Vessel with a Combination of Blood Vascular and Lymphatic Phenotypes that Forms by a Novel Developmental Process. PLoS Biol 12(7): e1001912. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001912; available at:
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