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Discovery boosts exploration of new possibilities for eye disease treatment

The search for blindness-associated proteins is a new frontier in the military-salvage-research arena, thanks to a discovery by a group of neuroscientists led by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

William Juval, assistant professor of bioengineering at McGovern, College of Engineering at UTHealth, and his group, have discovered a new mechanism involved in regulating the hematopoietic stem-cell microenvironment in what are known as cone-1-expressing cells—a type of stem cell that are found in peripheral blood, heart and muscle.

Their work, co-authored with UH graduate student Ryan Negautou and said to be the first to show the role of cone-1-expressing stem cells in hematopoietic development, suggests the possibility of novel therapies for retinal disorders and neuronal loss in retinal degenerative diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration and age-related macular degeneration targeted to the cone-1-expressing stem cells.

“What we have found is that a protein, GCL1 is required for the tolerance of the microenvironment for these cells, which may explain why tumor growth and abnormal pupil development are observed in these cells, ” Juval said.

Cone-1-expressing stem cells produce an active protein known as Cyclin-1, which acts as a signaling molecule for other stem cells—the lineage that eventually become cones. When this protein the cell needs to function optimally, smaller cells from the stem-cell lineage must be exposed to the appropriate stimulation—an expertise typically reserved for cone-1-expressing stem cells.

But sometimes, inhibitor uptake is off-target or blunted, resulting in neurodegeneration and altered pupil development. Reportedly, Michael Straughan, a former graduate student in Juval’s lab, discovered that the concept of cone-1-expressing stem cells responded to this defense mechanism, but that the function of the Neurotropic stem cells remained unchanged.

While previous research has shown that cone-1-expressing stem cells can differentiate into more than one cell subtype, the de-coordination of that process in the cone-1-expressing stem cell lineage had not been shown before.