As in glaucoma and other optic neuropathies cellular dysfunction often precedes cell death, the assessment of retinal ganglion cell (RGC) function represents a key outcome measure for neuroprotective strategies aimed at targeting distressed but still viable cells. RGC dysfunction can be assessed with the pattern electroretinogram (PERG), a sensitive measure of electrical activity of RGCs that is recorded non-invasively in human subjects and mouse models. Here, we offer a conceptual framework based on an intuitive state-transition model used for disease management in patients to identify progressive, potentially reversible stages of RGC dysfunction leading to cell death in mouse models of glaucoma and other optic neuropathies. We provide mathematical equations to describe state-transitions with a set of modifiable parameters that alter the time course and severity of state-transitions, which can be used for hypothesis testing and fitting experimental PERG data. PERG dynamics as a function of physiological stimuli are also used to differentiate phenotypic and altered RGC response dynamics, to assess susceptibility to stressors and to assess reversible dysfunction upon pharmacological treatment.
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