Purpose: To determine whether optic nerve head (ONH) astrocytes, a key cellular component of glaucomatous neuropathy, exhibit differential gene expression in primary cultures of astrocytes from normal African American (AA) donors compared to astrocytes from normal Caucasian American (CA) donors. Methods: We used oligonucleotide Affymetrix microarray (HG U133A & HG U133A 2.0 chips) to compare gene expression levels in cultured ONH astrocytes from twelve CA and twelve AA normal age matched donor eyes. Chips were normalized with Robust Microarray Analysis (RMA) in R using Bioconductor. Significant differential gene expression levels were detected using mixed effects modeling and Statistical Analysis of Microarray (SAM). Functional analysis and Gene Ontology were used to classify differentially expressed genes. Differential gene expression was validated by quantitative real time RT-PCR. Protein levels were detected by Western blots and ELISA. Cell adhesion and migration assays tested physiological responses. Glutathione (GSH) assay detected levels of intracellular GSH. Results: Multiple analyses selected 87 genes differentially expressed between normal AA and CA (P<0.01). The most relevant genes expressed in AA were categorized by function, including: signal transduction, response to stress, ECM genes, migration and cell adhesion. Conclusions: These data show that normal astrocytes from AA and CA normal donors display distinct expression profiles that impact astrocyte functions in the ONH. Our data suggests that differences in gene expression in ONH astrocytes may be specific to the development and/or progression of glaucoma in AA.
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