The team found that minocycline, often used to treat acne, limits by about 50 percent the retinal damage caused by microglia. Microglia are cells that act as the "cleanup crew" for the Central Nervous System (CNS). They destroy damaged cells by releasing toxins and they engulf them, much like a Pacman
"Our studies in rats suggest that this antibiotic may be a strong candidate for further consideration as a therapeutic drug in reducing the retinal complications of diabetes," said Kyle Krady, Ph.D., assistant professor of neural and behavioral sciences, Penn State College of Medicine, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. "Further studies are necessary to test the prediction that minocycline will reduce damage to the retina."
The study titled "Minocycline Reduces Proinflammatory Cytokine Expression, Microglial Activation, and Caspase-3 Activation in a Rodent Model of Diabetic Retinopathy" was published in the May edition of Diabetes, a journal of the American Diabetes Association.
Previous studies have shown that the changes diabetes causes in the body lead to increased production of cytokines, proteins that cause inflammation of the nerves. This study goes a step further to show that in early diabetes elevated levels of cytokines activate microglia, which produce neurotoxins and kill nerve cells. The neuron death causes the progressive vision loss characteristic of diabetic retinopathy and results in 12,000 to 24,000 new cases of blindness each year in the U.S.