John A. Moran Eye Center researchers continue to shed new light on the potential of the hormone erythropoietin (EPO) to treat eye disease. EPO increases red blood cell production, and is already used clinically to treat anemia. However, more recently EPO is being recognized for other properties, including blood vessel growth and neuroprotection, making it a potential treatment for diabetic retinopathy.
In a study published online Feb. 21 in the American Journal of Pathology, researchers in the laboratory of Moran’s Mary Elizabeth Hartnett, MD, examined the role EPO’s target, EPO receptor (EPOR), performs in the retina when active. Using mouse models, lead researcher Colin Bretz, PhD, analyzed how EPOR signaling impacts the retina under both normal conditions and following blood vessel injury and regrowth, similar to that experienced in retinal strokes or diabetic retinopathy.
The findings support the idea that EPOR signaling is important in limiting the loss of retinal function following injury, and plays a key role in a repatterning of neurons in the damaged retina.
The study, Erythropoietin Receptor Signaling Supports Retinal Function Following Vascular Injury, was conducted by Moran investigators Dr. Bretz; Aaron B. Simmons, PhD; Eric Kunz; Aniket Ramshekar; Carson Kennedy; Ivan Cardenas; and Dr. Hartnett.
The discovery marks the second major finding concerning EPOR signaling from the Hartnett lab. In 2018, the lab identified potential negative implications for using EPO to treat patients with age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in adults over 60 (Erythropoietin Signaling Increases Choroidal Macrophages and Cytokine Expression, and Exacerbates Choroidal Neovascularization).