Hereditary degeneration of photoreceptors has been linked to over-activation of Ca2+-permeable channels, excessive Ca2+-influx, and downstream activation of Ca2+-dependent calpain-type proteases. Unfortunately, after more than 20 years of pertinent research, unequivocal evidence proving significant and reproducible photoreceptor protection with Ca2+-channel blockers is still lacking. Here, we show that both D- and L-cis enantiomers of the anti-hypertensive drug diltiazem were highly effective at blocking photoreceptor Ca2+-influx, most probably by blocking the pores of Ca2+-permeable channels. Yet, unexpectedly, this block neither reduced activity of calpain-type proteases, nor did it result in photoreceptor protection. Remarkably, application of the L-cis enantiomer of diltiazem even led to a strong increase in photoreceptor cell death. These findings shed doubt on the previously proposed links between Ca2+ and retinal degeneration and are highly relevant for future therapy development as they may serve to refocus research efforts towards alternative, Ca2+-independent degenerative mechanisms.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience