Excessive inflammation is implicated in neurodegenerative diseases including Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). Regulation of pro-inflammatory cytokine release (including IL-1β) by microglia and macrophages is critical in preventing photoreceptor loss. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) have the ability to target the expression of multiple genes, often within associated biological pathways. However, there is still a poor understanding of the role of miRNAs in controlling inflammation in the retina. MicroRNA-223 (miR-223) dysregulation has been linked to the progression of neuroinflammatory diseases, although its retinal expression has not been previously studied. Here, we investigate the role of miR-223 in inflammation and photoreceptor cell death in the normal and degenerating retina. We hypothesise that in the retina, miR-223 may regulate inflammation at the cellular source in microglia and macrophages and could also have a role in neuroprotection. Modulating levels of miR-223 may be of therapeutic benefit for neurodegenerative diseases including AMD.
Dr Nilisha Fernando is a postdoctoral researcher at the Clear Vision Research Laboratory (led by Dr Riccardo Natoli) at the JCSMR, Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. She undertook her PhD at the ANU with a focus on the role of retinal microglia and macrophages in propagating inflammation in retinal degeneration and explored a number of therapies to target these macrophages in disease progression. Currently in her postdoc, Dr Fernando is investigating the use of microRNAs (regulators of gene transcription) in inhibiting retinal inflammation in degeneration, a project for which she holds Ophthalmic Research Institute of Australia (ORIA) funding as lead investigator. In 2020, she will take up an international postdoctoral position at the National Eye Institute (NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA) with Dr Wai Wong to further study microglial interactions in the retina. Dr Fernando is also currently the Young Investigator Representative for the International Society for Eye Research (ISER).