Macular disease, Ophthalmology, Optometry, Research, Therapies

Gene responsible for ageing of eye found

In a discovery that could have significant implications for how age-related ocular diseases are diagnosed and treated, researchers have pinpointed a specific gene linked to the effect ageing has on the eye.

Elongation of Very Long Chain Fatty Acids Protein 2 (ELOVL2), a previously known biomarker of age, has now been connected to functional and anatomical ageing in vivo in mouse retinas. A decrease of the gene’s expression was associated with increased DNA methylation of its promoter.

Notably, when researchers reversed hypermethylation, which negatively impacts the expression of the gene, age-related visual decline in mice was reversed.

“These findings indicate that ELOVL2 actively regulates ageing in mouse retina, provides a molecular link between polyunsaturated fatty acids elongation and visual functions, and suggests novel therapeutic strategies for treatment of age-related eye diseases,” the report states.

ELOVL2, which is found in humans as well as mice, regulates the level of docosahexaenoic acid found in the brain and retina while also promoting healthy retinal function and protection against damage from bright light. It has also been linked to the improvement of several conditions, including age-related macular degeneration and dry eye.

According to Dr Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk, assistant professor at University of California San Diego’s Shiley Eye Institute and senior author on the research, the findings prove for the first time that a ‘methlyation clock’ has a functional role in the ageing of an organ.

“I have been asked whether I think ELOVL2 is the aging gene,” Skowronska-Krawczyk said.

“After thinking about it, it is not unreasonable to think that lower ELOVL2 expression might be at the basis for many age-related conditions. Future work in our lab will address that question.”

As well as new treatments for several ocular conditions, it is hoped the research will assist in calculating the biological age of individuals and identifying the risk status of an individual.

The research was published in the journal Aging Cell.