Trans-synaptic Retrograde Degeneration in the Human Visual System: Slow, Silent, and Real
Retinal Ganglion Cells
Degeneration of neuron and axons following injury to cells with which they synapse is termed trans-synaptic degeneration. This phenomenon may be seen in postsynaptic neurons (anterograde) or in presynaptic neurons (retrograde). Retrograde trans-synaptic degeneration (RTSD) of the retinal ganglion cells and retinal nerve fiber layer following injury to the occipital lobe has been well documented histologically in animal studies, but its occurrence in the human retina was, for many years, felt to be limited to cases of neonatal injury during a critical period of neuronal development. Over the last decade, imaging techniques such as MRI and optical coherence tomography have allowed us to visualize and quantify RTSD and analyze its time course and relationship to degree of vision loss and age of cortical injury. A deeper understanding of RTSD in the human visual system may allow us to interfere with its occurrence, potentially allowing for greater recovery following visual cortex injury.