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Insufficient zinc linked to eye disease

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HANOVER, N.H., Aug 19, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- U.S. researchers have found the amount of zinc absorbed by the body can determine if a protein vital for vision functions normally or triggers blindness.

Doctors at Dartmouth Medical School have discovered that the inability of zinc to successfully bind to rhodopsin -- a light receptor protein in the eye -- can cause retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease that leaves many patients legally blind by the age of 40.

"We have found if there is not enough zinc in the body or there is a mutation in the zinc binding site, the protein rhodopsin will misfold and break down, triggering cell death, degeneration of the retina and eventually blindness," said Dr. John Hwa, an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology.

The research, published in the August 20 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, is the first to show zinc plays a big role in retinal degeneration.

Past findings have also indicated that using essential trace metals, such as zinc, could treat several nondegenerate diseases, such as Alzheimer's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Copyright 2004 by United Press International.

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