Aims/hypothesis: Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) plays a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of diabetic retinopathy. We investigated whether transgenic mice with moderate VEGF expression in photoreceptors (trVEGF029) developed changes similar to diabetic retinopathy and whether retinopathy progressed with time.
Materials and methods: Human VEGF(165) (hVEGF(165)) expression was analysed using ELISA and quantitative RT-PCR; serum glucose levels were also measured. Fundus fluorescein angiography (FA) was used to screen the degree of retinopathy from 6 weeks. Dynamic changes in the density of retinal microvasculature, as well as other changes similar to diabetic retinopathy, including retinal leucostasis, capillary endothelial cell and pericyte loss, and numbers of acellular capillaries, were quantified.
Results: trVEGF029 mice were normoglycaemic and showed a moderate, short-term hVEGF(165) upregulation for up to 3 weeks. Changes in the retinal microvasculature not only mimicked those seen in diabetic retinopathy, but also showed similar pathological progression with time. FA at 6 weeks identified two phenotypes, mild and moderate, which were distinguished by the extent of vascular leakage. Quantitative analysis of diabetic retinopathy-like changes revealed that these parameters were tightly correlated with the initial degree of vascular leakage; low levels reflected slow and limited retinal microvascular changes in mild cases and high levels reflected more rapid and extensive changes in moderate cases.
Conclusions/interpretation: The data suggest that even an early short-term elevation in hVEGF(165) expression might set a train of events that lead to progressive retinopathy. Induction of many features characteristic of diabetic retinopathy in trVEGF029 enables mechanisms leading to the disease state to be examined, and provides a relevant animal model for testing novel therapeutics.