Purpose: In tissues outside the brain, vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF) causes vascular hyper-permeability by opening of inter-endothelial junctions and induction of fenestrations and vesiculo-vacuolar organelles (VVOs). In preliminary studies, we observed that in blood-retinal barrier endothelium, other cellular mechanisms may underlie increased permeability caused by VEGF. This was further investigated in material of an in vivo experimental model of VEGF-induced retinopathy.
Methods: Two monkeys received 4 intravitreal injections of 0.5 microg VEGF in one eye and PBS in the other eye prior to sacrifice at day 9. One monkey received 12 injections of 1.25 microg VEGF in one eye and PBS in the other eye prior to sacrifice at day 24. As a control, an untreated eye of a fourth monkey was studied.
Results: In the high-dose VEGF-injected eye, fluorescein angiography showed intense retinal micro-vascular leakage. This leakage was also demonstrated by immunohistochemistry demonstrating extravasation of endogenous fibrinogen and IgG. However, in these leaky blood vessels the number of pinocytotic vesicles (caveolae) at the endothelial luminal membrane were significantly higher and, only in the VEGF-injected eyes, these pinocytotic vesicles transported plasma IgG. By electron microscopy, no fenestrations or VVOs were found in the endothelial cells of the VEGF-injected eyes.
Conclusion: We conclude that increased vascular permeability for plasma proteins induced by VEGF in blood-retinal barrier endothelium is predominantly caused by a mechanism involving active trans-endothelial transport via pinocytotic vesicles and not by formation of endothelial fenestrations or VVOs.