Investigative ophthalmology & visual science

Erythropoietin Protects Retinal Cells in Diabetic Rats Through Upregulating ZnT8 via Activating ERK Pathway and Inhibiting HIF-1α Expression.

PMID 26720469


Zinc transporter 8 (ZnT8) was downregulated in hypoxic retina, which could be rescued by hypoxia-inducible factor-1α (HIF-1α) inhibition. Erythropoietin (EPO) protects retinal cells in diabetic rats through inhibiting HIF-1α as one of its mechanisms. We hence tried to explore the effect of EPO in regulating ZnT8 and protecting retinal cells in diabetic rats and possible mechanisms. Diabetes was induced in Sprague-Dawley rats. Intravitreal injection of EPO was performed 1 month after diabetes onset. The CoCl2-treated rat Müller cell line (rMC-1) was cotreated with EPO, soluble EPO receptor (sEPOR), digoxin, or U0126. Cell viability, cell death, and intracellular zinc level were examined. The expression of ZnT8, HIF-1α, AKT, and ERK was studied. In diabetic rat retinas, EPO significantly decreased HIF-1α expression and increased ZnT8 expression. In CoCl2-treated rMC-1 cells, EPO increased cell viability and decreased intracellular zinc. Erythropoietin or digoxin could activate ERK pathway, downregulate HIF-1α, and upregulate ZnT8. The effect of EPO was abolished by sEPOR and U0126. Transient knockdown of ZnT8 increased intracellular zinc level, but not to a degree that would decrease cell viability or cause cell death. In diabetic retinas, EPO maintains zinc homeostasis through activating the ERK pathway and downregulating HIF-1α, and thus upregulating ZnT8 expression. This work proposed a possible new protective mechanism for EPO in, and indicated a potential target for, the treatment of diabetic retinopathy.