Diabetes-induced retinal vascular cell death aggravates diabetic retinopathy (DR) to the proliferative stage and blindness. Pericytes play a crucial role in retinal capillaries survival, stability, and angiogenesis. Ephrin-B2 is a tyrosine kinase that regulates pericytes/endothelial cells communication during angiogenesis; yet, its role in DR is still unclear. We hypothesize that diabetes increases Ephrin-B2 signaling in pericytes, which contributes to inflammation and retinal vascular cell death. Selective inhibition of the Ephrin-B2 expression in the retinal pericytes was achieved using an intraocular injection of adeno-associated virus (AAV) with a specific pericyte promotor. Vascular death was determined by retinal trypsin digest. Pathological angiogenesis was assessed using the oxygen-induced retinopathy model in pericyte-Ephrin-B2 knockout mice, wild type, and wild type injected with AAV. Angiogenic properties, inflammatory, and apoptotic markers were measured in human retinal pericytes (HRP) grown under diabetic conditions. Diabetes significantly increased the expression of Ephrin-B2, inflammatory, and apoptotic markers in the diabetic retinas and HRP. These effects were prevented by silencing Ephrin-B2 in HRP. Moreover, Ephrin-B2 silencing in retinal pericytes decreased pathological angiogenesis and acellular capillaries formation in diabetic retinas. Increased Ephrin-B2 expression in the pericytes contributed to diabetes-induced retinal inflammation and vascular death. These results identify pericytes-Ephrin-B2 as a therapeutic target for DR.
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