Vitamin B3 protects mice from glaucoma
Glaucoma is the most common cause of age-related blindness in the United States. There is currently no cure, and once vision is lost, the condition is irreversible. Williams et al. now report that vitamin B3 (also known as niacin) prevents eye degeneration in glaucoma-prone mice (see the Perspective by Crowston and Trounce). Supplementing the diets of young mice with vitamin B3 averted early signs of glaucoma. Vitamin B3 also halted further glaucoma development in aged mice that already showed signs of the disease. Thus, healthy intake of vitamin B3 may protect eyesight.
Glaucomas are neurodegenerative diseases that cause vision loss, especially in the elderly. The mechanisms initiating glaucoma and driving neuronal vulnerability during normal aging are unknown. Studying glaucoma-prone mice, we show that mitochondrial abnormalities are an early driver of neuronal dysfunction, occurring before detectable degeneration. Retinal levels of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+, a key molecule in energy and redox metabolism) decrease with age and render aging neurons vulnerable to disease-related insults. Oral administration of the NAD+ precursor nicotinamide (vitamin B3), and/or gene therapy (driving expression of Nmnat1, a key NAD+-producing enzyme), was protective both prophylactically and as an intervention. At the highest dose tested, 93% of eyes did not develop glaucoma. This supports therapeutic use of vitamin B3 in glaucoma and potentially other age-related neurodegenerations.