Of Mice and Monkeys: Neuroprotective Efficacy of the p38 Inhibitor BIRB 796 Depends on Model Duration in Experimental Glaucoma

  • Wendi S. Lambert
  • Silvia Pasini
  • John W. Collyer
  • Cathryn R. Formichella
  • Purnima Ghose
  • Brian J. Carlson
  • David J. Calkins 


Glaucoma is a group of optic neuropathies associated with aging and sensitivity to intraocular pressure (IOP). Early progression involves retinal ganglion cell (RGC) axon dysfunction that precedes frank degeneration. Previously we demonstrated that p38 MAPK inhibition abates axonal dysfunction and slows degeneration in the inducible microbead occlusion model of glaucoma in rat. Here, we assessed the neuroprotective effect of topical eye delivery of the p38 MAPK inhibitor BIRB 796 in three models of glaucoma (microbead occlusion in rat and squirrel monkey and the genetic DBA/2 J mouse model) with distinct durations of IOP elevation. While BIRB 796 did not influence IOP, treatment over four weeks in rats prevented degradation of anterograde axonal transport to the superior colliculus and degeneration in the optic nerve. Treatment over months in the chronic DBA/2 J model and in the squirrel monkey model reduced expression and activation of p38 downstream targets in the retina and brain but did not rescue RGC axon transport or degeneration, suggesting the efficacy of BIRB 796 in preventing associated degeneration of the RGC projection depends on the duration of the experimental model. These results emphasize the importance of evaluating potential therapeutic compounds for neuroprotection in multiple models using elongated treatment paradigms for an accurate assessment of efficacy.

“… with a freezing stage (Brain Research Laboratories, Newton MA) and 250 mm flat back permanent microtome knife …”

Original Article