Author(s): Witmer AN, Blaauwgeers HG, Weich HA, Alitalo K, Vrensen GF,
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Abstract PURPOSE: The vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) family is involved in vascular leakage and angiogenesis in diabetic retinopathy (DR) in the eye, but may also have physiological functions. Based on the hypothesis that differential VEGF receptor (VEGFR) expression in the retina is an important determinant of effects of VEGF, this study was conducted to investigate VEGFR expression in the diabetic retina and in an experimental monkey model of VEGF-A-induced retinopathy. METHODS: In retinas of 27 eyes of diabetic donors, 18 eyes of nondiabetic control donors, and 4 monkey eyes injected with PBS or VEGF-A, expression patterns of VEGFR-1, -2, and -3 in relation to leaky microvessels, as identified by the marker pathologische anatomie Leiden-endothelium (PAL-E) were studied by immunohistochemistry. RESULTS. In control human retinas and retinas of PBS-injected monkey eyes, all three VEGFRs were expressed in nonvascular areas, but only VEGFR-1 was constitutively expressed in retinal microvessels. In diabetic eyes, increased microvascular VEGFR-2 expression was found in association with PAL-E expression, whereas microvascular VEGFR-3 was present in a subset of PAL-E-positive cases. In VEGF-A-injected monkey eyes, VEGFR-1, -2, and -3 and PAL-E were expressed in retinal microvessels. CONCLUSIONS: The VEGFR-1, -2, and -3 expression patterns in control retinas suggest physiological functions of VEGFs that do not involve the vasculature. Initial vascular VEGF signaling may act primarily through VEGFR-1. In diabetic eyes, expression of retinal VEGFR-2 and -3 is increased, mainly in leaky microvessels, and VEGF-A induces vascular expression of the VEGF-A receptor VEGFR-2 and the VEGF-C/D receptor VEGFR-3. These findings indicate a dual role of VEGFs in the physiology and pathophysiology of the retina and suggest that microvascular VEGFR-2 and -3 signaling by VEGFs occurs late in the pathogenesis of DR, possibly initiated by high levels of VEGF-A in established nonproliferative DR.
This article was published in Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci
and referenced in Journal of Molecular and Genetic Medicine