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Cell death from cytomegalovirus may bring new life to treatment of retinal disease
Date:1/5/2009

AUGUSTA, Ga. Just days after the first retinal cell gets infected with the common cytomegalovirus, contiguous cells start committing suicide and researchers believe their death may provide clues to better treatment of this potentially blinding infection.

Understanding the cell death may also provide new insight into the larger issue of how the retina responds to assault, whether by infection or a disease process such as diabetes, said Dr. Sally Atherton, virologist and immunologist who chairs the Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy in the Medical College of Georgia School of Medicine. "We are trying to get to the bottom of the mechanisms of that cell death."

A recent $1.3 million grant from the National Eye Institute is enabling studies of what's likely the body's well-intended effort to stop cytomegalovirus retinitis. "We can try to infect certain cells and see what happens. We can try to inhibit the virus and see what that does. The immediate goal is to look at the apoptosis (cell death) trigger but the bigger picture is really looking at mechanisms of retinal damage during cytomegalovirus infection," Dr. Atherton said. Tools include a mouse model of human disease as well as a retinal cell culture system developed by MCG Assistant Research Scientist Ming Zhang.

Their perusing may identify new treatment targets; a modulator made by infected cells that prompts adjacent cell death could be one such target. And certainly there is plenty to study: "Lots of signaling pathways are activated. There are a whole host of genes that are up-regulated and down-regulated," Dr. Atherton said. Infected cells as well as cells that come in to cart off dead cells may secrete tumor necrosis factor, for example, an immune cell regulator that causes inflammation and also may trigger cell death. "There are various mechanisms by which apoptosis, or cell death, can be induced," Dr. Atherton said.

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Contact: Toni Baker
tbaker@mcg.edu
706-721-4421
Medical College of Georgia
Source:Eurekalert  

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