Neurodegenerative Biomarkers

Duke University Department of Ophthalmology

Dr. Tseng’s research is targeting the problem of early diagnosis of glaucoma prior to noticeable damage to neurons.
Previous research by Dr. Tseng has demonstrated that patients with dying neurons, as occurs with glaucoma, have elevated levels of specific neuronal proteins. These protein markers can be utilized as biomarkers to diagnose primary open angle glaucoma (POAG).

Using two sets of patients at Duke Eye Center, the research objectives are:

Aim 1: To measure the presence of the specific neurodegenerative markers associated with recently diagnosed new POAG cases.

Aim 2: To measure the presence of the specific neurodegenerative markers associated with POAG patients that exhibit disease progression.


Primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) is a neurodegenerative disease of the visual pathway in which irreversible blindness result from progressive loss of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). Intraocular pressure or visual field testing are unreliable methods to screen for POAG. As such, there is currently no effective clinical method for diagnosing POAG at an early stage. Our goal is to identify and develop POAG biomarkers which can be utilized for early diagnosis. We hypothesize that the degeneration of RGCs result in leakage of specific neuronal proteins into the blood, and that autoantibodies developed against these neuronal proteins can be utilized as a POAG biomarkers. These autoantibodies will be present in the serum or tear film in small quantity. Therefore, the goal of this proposal is to develop sensitive proteomic assays to these autoantibodies, and test them in POAG patients. Previous studies by other investigators have examined autoantibodies to inflammatory markers. However, to our knowledge, little is known about autoantibodies to neuronal proteins emanating from dying neurons. In preliminary work, we have already developed an assay to detect low levels of autoantibodies against these neuron-specific proteins, such as tau, MAP, and neuron enolase. Furthermore, our preliminary data have demonstrated elevated autoantibody levels of specific neuronal proteins in POAG patients recruited at the Duke Eye Center. Here, we propose to expand our preliminary work into a larger clinical study and validate these autoantibodies as serum and tear film biomarkers.

Henry Tseng, M.D., Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Duke University Department of Ophthalmology

2531 Erwin Rd.
Durham, NC 27710