Aims/hypothesis: Proliferative diabetic retinopathy is a major debilitating disease causing most cases of blindness in humans in the Western world. Photocoagulation is the established therapy of proliferative diabetic retinopathy, although the molecular mechanisms of its effects are still not known. Recently angiostatin has been characterized as a potent inhibitor of neovascularization. Apart from a possible down-regulation of angiogenic cytokines, release of angiostatin could initiate the anti-angiogenic effects of retinal photocoagulation.
Methods: We investigated the regulation of angiostatin and the angiogenic cytokines vascular endothelial growth factor and basic fibroblast growth factor in vivo by comparing vitreal concentrations of 18 control patients and 34 patients with proliferative diabetic retinopathy with and without previous photocoagulation. Concentrations of basic fibroblast growth factor and angiostatin were additionally measured in serum, while vascular endothelial growth factor is known to be regulated locally in the eye. Cytokines were measured by immunological methods.
Results: Angiostatin could be detected in 2 out of 18 control patients and in 25 out of 34 diabetic patients (p < 0.00001). Most importantly, production of angiostatin in human vitreous correlated significantly with previous retinal photocoagulation (p < 0.0001) in patients with proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Only two patients (one control and one diabetic) had detectable serum concentrations of angiostatin. Additionally patients with proliferative diabetic retinopathy and with previous photocoagulation had significantly lower concentrations of vascular endothelial growth factor (0.9 +/- 0.1 ng/ml; p < 0.0001) than diabetic patients without previous photocoagulation (4.0 +/- 0.8 ng/ml). The investigation of vitreal and serum basic fibroblast growth factor concentrations yielded no significant differences between the groups.
Conclusion/interpretation: Angiostatin is not a regularly expressed angiogenesis inhibitor in human vitreous. The alterations we observed suggest that local release of angiostatin and down-regulation of vascular endothelial growth factor mediate the therapeutic effects of retinal photocoagulation in proliferative diabetic retinopathy.