Association between HSP-Specific T-Cell Counts and Retinal Nerve Fiber Layer Thickness in Patients with Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma

Chhavi Saini, Shuhong Jiang, Julia Devlin, Li Pan, Yizhen Tang, Jing Tang, Jessica A. Sun, Maltish M. Lorenzo, Qingyi Wang, Louis R. Pasquale, Kin Sang Cho, Dong Feng Chen, Lucy Q. Shen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objective: Previous laboratory reports implicate heat shock protein (HSP)–specific T-cell responses in glaucoma pathogenesis; here, we aimed to provide direct clinical evidence by correlating systemic HSP-specific T-cell levels with glaucoma severity in patients with primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG). Design: Cross-sectional case-control study. Subjects: Thirty-two adult patients with POAG and 38 controls underwent blood draw and optic nerve imaging. Methods: Peripheral blood monocytes (PBMC) were stimulated in culture with HSP27, α-crystallin, a member of the small HSP family, or HSP60. Both interferon-γ (IFN-γ)+ CD4+ T helper type 1 cells (Th1) and transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1)+ CD4+ regulatory T cells (Treg) were quantified by flow cytometry and presented as a percentage of total PBMC counts. Relevant cytokines were measured using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays. Retinal nerve fiber layer thickness (RNFLT) was measured with OCT. Pearson's correlation (r) was used to assess correlations. Main Outcome Measures: Correlations of HSP-specific T-cell counts, and serum levels of corresponding cytokine levels with RNFLT. Results: Patients with POAG (visual field mean deviation, -4.7 ± 4.0 dB) and controls were similar in age, gender, and body mass index. Moreover, 46.9% of POAG and 60.0% of control subjects had prior cataract surgery (P = 0.48). Although no significant difference in total nonstimulated CD4+ Th1 or Treg cells was detected, patients with POAG exhibited significantly higher frequencies of Th1 cells specific for HSP27, α-crystallin, or HSP60 than controls (7.3 ± 7.9% vs. 2.6 ± 2.0%, P = 0.004; 5.8 ± 2.7% vs. 1.8 ± 1.3%, P < 0.001; 13.2 ± 13.3 vs. 4.3 ± 5.2, P = 0.01; respectively), but similar Treg specific for the same HSPs compared with controls (P ≥ 0.10 for all). Concordantly, the serum levels of IFN-γ were higher in POAG than in controls (36.2 ± 12.1 pg/ml vs. 10.0 ± 4.3 pg/ml; P < 0.001), but TGF-β1 levels did not differ. Average RNFLT of both eyes negatively correlated with HSP27- and α-crystallin-specific Th1 cell counts, and IFN-γ levels in all subjects after adjusting for age (partial correlation coefficient r = -0.31, P = 0.03; r = -0.52, p = 0.002; r = -0.72, P < 0.001, respectively). Conclusions: Higher levels of HSP-specific Th1 cells are associated with thinner RNFLT in patients with POAG and control subjects. The significant inverse relationship between systemic HSP-specific Th1 cell count and RNFLT supports the role of these T cells in glaucomatous neurodegeneration. Financial Disclosure(s): Proprietary or commercial disclosure may be found after the references.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100310
JournalOphthalmology Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Glaucoma
  • Heat shock protein
  • Primary open-angle glaucoma
  • Retinal nerve fiber layer thickness
  • T-cell count


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