Neuronal cell death, glial cell activation, retinal swelling and oxidative injury are complications in retinal ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) injuries. Lycium barbarum polysaccharides (LBP), extracts from the wolfberries, are good for "eye health" according to Chinese medicine. The aim of our present study is to explore the use of LBP in retinal I/R injury. Retinal I/R injury was induced by surgical occlusion of the internal carotid artery. Prior to induction of ischemia, mice were treated orally with either vehicle (PBS) or LBP (1 mg/kg) once a day for 1 week. Paraffin-embedded retinal sections were prepared. Viable cells were counted; apoptosis was assessed using TUNEL assay. Expression levels of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), aquaporin-4 (AQP4), poly(ADP-ribose) (PAR) and nitrotyrosine (NT) were investigated by immunohistochemistry. The integrity of blood-retinal barrier (BRB) was examined by IgG extravasations. Apoptosis and decreased viable cell count were found in the ganglion cell layer (GCL) and the inner nuclear layer (INL) of the vehicle-treated I/R retina. Additionally, increased retinal thickness, GFAP activation, AQP4 up-regulation, IgG extravasations and PAR expression levels were observed in the vehicle-treated I/R retina. Many of these changes were diminished or abolished in the LBP-treated I/R retina. Pre-treatment with LBP for 1 week effectively protected the retina from neuronal death, apoptosis, glial cell activation, aquaporin water channel up-regulation, disruption of BRB and oxidative stress. The present study suggests that LBP may have a neuroprotective role to play in ocular diseases for which I/R is a feature.
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