Retinas of diabetic individuals develop early functional changes measurable by electrophysiological and psychometric testing. Using a rat model of diabetes, we previously identified diabetes-induced alterations in metabolism of the neurotransmitter glutamate which may ultimately lead to accumulation of glutamate in the retina (Diabetes, 47: 815, 1998). We therefore investigated the function of enzymes that mediate the synthesis and breakdown of glutamate in retinas from rats made diabetic by injection of streptozotocin. De novo synthesis of nitrogen-containing amino acids including glutamate, glutamine and aspartate was assessed by measuring the rate of carbon fixation in freshly dissected retinas, and was unchanged by diabetes. In contrast, the oxidation of glutamate was significantly reduced in retinas from diabetic rats (62%, P < 0.05). Furthermore, diabetic retinas were less susceptible to inhibition of glutamate oxidation by the transaminase inhibitor aminoxyacetate (80%, N.S.), compared to the significant decrease seen in control rats (61%, P < 0.001). The activity and content of glutamine synthetase were also significantly reduced in retinas from rats diabetic for 2-6 months [range of 48% (P < 0.005) to 83% (P < 0.05) compared to control]. The activity of glutamine synthetase was normalized by acute injections of insulin, but not by reducing blood sugar levels with injections of phlorizin. These results indicate two enzymatic abnormalities in the glutamate metabolism pathway in the retina during diabetes: transamination to alpha-ketoglutarate and amination to glutamine. The reduced flux through these pathways may be associated with the accumulation of glutamate. These results are also consistent with the possibility that some of the glial changes in the retina during diabetes may be caused by hypoinsulinemia rather than hyperglycemia.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.