, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 260-273
Date: 24 Feb 2009

Methylene Blue Provides Behavioral and Metabolic Neuroprotection Against Optic Neuropathy

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Methylene blue (MB) is a diaminophenothiazine with potent antioxidant and unique redox properties that prevent morphologic degenerative changes in the mouse retina induced by rotenone, a specific mitochondrial complex I inhibitor. This study evaluated pigmented rats to determine whether MB’s neuroprotective effects against rotenone-mediated retinal neurotoxicity have functional relevance and whether these effects are mediated by an improvement in neuronal energy metabolism in vivo. Visual function was behaviorally assessed by determining differences in the illuminance sensitivity threshold pre- and post-bilateral intravitreal injection of rotenone (200 μg/kg) or rotenone plus MB (70 μg/kg). Retinal degeneration was morphologically studied using unbiased stereological tools. Changes in histochemically determined cytochrome oxidase activity in the visual pathway were used to evaluate the impact of treatments on neuronal energy metabolism. Rotenone induced a 1.4 log unit increase in the illumination threshold compared to baseline, as well as a 32% decrease in ganglion cell layer cell (GCL) density, and a 56% decrease in GCL layer + nerve fiber layer thickness. Co-administration of MB prevented the changes in visual function and the retinal histopathology. Furthermore, rotenone induced a functional deafferentation of the visual system, as revealed by decreases in the metabolic activity of the retina, superior colliculus, and visual cortex. These metabolic changes were also prevented by MB. The results provided the first demonstration of MB’s behavioral and metabolic neuroprotection against optic neuropathy, and implicate MB as a candidate neuroprotective agent with metabolic-enhancing properties that may be used in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases associated with mitochondrial dysfunction.