Hyperglycemia increases mitochondrial superoxide in retina and retinal cells

Free Radic Biol Med. 2003 Dec 1;35(11):1491-9. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2003.08.018.


Oxidative stress is believed to play a significant role in the development of diabetic retinopathy. In this study, we have investigated the effects of elevated glucose concentration on the production of superoxide anion by retina and retinal cells, the cellular source of the superoxide, the effect of therapies that are known to inhibit diabetic retinopathy on the superoxide production, and the role of the superoxide in cell death in elevated glucose concentration. Superoxide release was measured from retinas collected from streptozotocin-diabetic rats (2 months) treated with or without aminoguanidine, aspirin, or vitamin E, and from transformed retinal Müller cells (rMC-1) and bovine retinal endothelial cells (BREC) incubated in normal (5 mM) and high (25 mM) glucose. Diabetes (retina) or incubation in elevated glucose concentration (rMC-1 and BREC cells) significantly increased superoxide production, primarily from mitochondria, because an inhibitor of mitochondrial electron transport chain complex II normalized superoxide production. Inhibition of reduced nicotinamine adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) oxidase or nitric oxide synthase had little or no effect on the glucose-induced increase in superoxide. Treatment of diabetic animals with aminoguanidine, aspirin, or vitamin E for 2 months significantly inhibited the diabetes-induced increase in production of superoxide in the retinas. Despite the increased production of superoxide, no increase in protein carbonyls was detected in retinal proteins from animals diabetic for 2-6 months or rMC-1 cells incubated in 25 mM glucose for 5 d unless the activities of calpain or the proteosome were inhibited. Addition of copper/zinc-containing superoxide dismutase to the media of rMC-1 and BREC cells inhibited the apoptotic death caused by elevated glucose. Diabetes-like glucose concentration increases superoxide production in retinal cells, and the superoxide contributes to impaired viability and increased cell death under those circumstances. Three therapies that inhibit the development of diabetic retinopathy all inhibit superoxide production, raising a possibility that these therapies inhibit retinopathy in part by inhibiting a hyperglycemia-induced increase in superoxide production.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Actins / chemistry
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cattle
  • Cell Death
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Cell Survival
  • Copper / chemistry
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / pathology
  • Electron Transport
  • Glucose / chemistry
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Hyperglycemia*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Lew
  • Retina / cytology*
  • Retina / metabolism
  • Retina / pathology*
  • Superoxides* / metabolism
  • Zinc / chemistry


  • Actins
  • Superoxides
  • Copper
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Glucose
  • Zinc
  • Oxygen