Age-related macular degeneration (or age-related macular degeneration, AMD) is one of the leading causes of blindness,media New Atlas reported. And now an international team of scientists has discovered a specific protein that may be causing the disease, showing new hope that it could be treated or even prevented.
The study included scientists from Queen Mary University of London, the University of Manchester, Cardiff University and Ladbrokes University Medical Centre in the Netherlands. The study involved the analysis of blood samples from 484 AMD patients and from 522 people who did not have age matches for the disease. It was found that the blood in the AMD group contained significantly higher levels of the substance called H-factor-related protein 4 (FHR-4). In addition, when examining the donated eyes of deceased AMD patients, fHR-4 was also found in their macular plaques.
FHR-4 regulates part of the immune system, called the complement system. The system, in turn, plays a key role in inflammation and the body’s resistance to infection. Importantly, previous studies have shown that overactivity of complement systems may lead to AMD. Genetic analysis of AMD group members further showed that their higher FHR-4 levels were associated with changes in genes that encoded proteins belonging to the H-factor family. More than two decades ago, these same changes were previously associated with increased AMD risk.
Professor Simon Clark, of the University of Manchester, said: “This study is really a shift in our understanding of how supplemental activation drives this major blinding disease. Until now, the role of FHR proteins in disease has not been inferred. But now, we show a direct link and, more excitingly, it is a tangible step towards identifying a group of potential therapeutic targets for treating this debilitating disease. “
Scientists recently published a paper on the study in the journal Nature Communications.