Breaking barriers: insight into the pathogenesis of neovascular age-related macular degeneration
Haibo Wang1, Erika S Wittchen2, M Elizabeth Hartnett1
1Department of Ophthalmology, John A Moran Eye Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT; 2Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
Abstract: Neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of central visual acuity loss in a growing segment of the population, those over the age of 60 years. Treatment has improved over the last decade, with the availability of agents that inhibit the bioactivity of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), but it is still limited, because of tachyphylaxis and potential risk and toxicity of anti-VEGF agents. The authors have sought to understand the mechanisms of choroidal endothelial cell (CEC) activation and transmigration of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and of RPE barrier dysfunction, events preceding vision-threatening neovascular AMD. The authors developed physiologically relevant human RPE and CEC coculture and transmigration models that have been important in helping to understand causes of events in human neovascular AMD. The authors can control for interactions between these cells and can separately assess activation of signaling pathways in each cell type relevant during CEC transmigration. Using these models, it was found that VEGF, particularly the cell-associated VEGF splice variant VEGF189, accounts for about 40% of CEC transmigration across the RPE. This percentage is in the range of similar reports following clinical inhibition of VEGF in neovascular AMD. RPE VEGF189 working through CEC VEGF receptor 2 activates the small guanosine triphosphatase (GTPase) of the Rho family, Rac1, in CECs, which in turn facilitates CEC transmigration. Conversely, inhibition of Rac1 activity prevents CEC transmigration. Once activated, Rac1 aggregates with subunits of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) oxidase, resulting in the generation of reactive oxygen species. Activated NADPH oxidase increases choroidal neovascularization in animal models of laser-induced injury. Rac1 is also downstream of the eotaxin-CCR3 pathway, another pathway important in human neovascular AMD. Studies also suggest that active Ras-related protein 1 (Rap1), another small GTPase, in RPE can strengthen the RPE barrier integrity and can resist CEC transmigration of the RPE, suggesting Rap1 activation may be another potential target for preventing neovascular AMD.
Keywords: choroidal endothelial cell (CEC), Rac1/Rap1 GTPase, retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), NADPH oxidase
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