Retinopathy is reduced during experimental diabetes in a mouse model of outer retinal degeneration

Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2006 Dec;47(12):5561-8. doi: 10.1167/iovs.06-0647.


Purpose: Diabetic patients who also have retinitis pigmentosa (RP) appear to have fewer and less severe retinal microvascular lesions. Diabetic retinopathy may be linked to increased inner retinal hypoxia, with the possibility that this is exacerbated by oxygen usage during the dark-adaptation response. Therefore, patients with RP with depleted rod photoreceptors may encounter proportionately less retinal hypoxia, and, when diabetes is also present, there may be fewer retinopathic lesions. This hypothesis was tested in rhodopsin knockout mice (Rho-/-) as an RP model in which the diabetic milieu is superimposed. The study was designed to investigate whether degeneration of the outer retina has any impact on hypoxia, to examine diabetes-related retinal gene expression responses, and to assess lesions of diabetic retinopathy.

Methods: Streptozotocin-induced diabetes was created in male C57Bl6 (wild-type; WT) and Rho-/- mice, and hyperglycemia was maintained for 5 months. The extent of diabetes was confirmed by measurement of glycated hemoglobin (%GHb) and accumulation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Retinal hypoxia was assessed using the bioreductive drug pimonidazole. The retinal microvasculature was studied in retinal flatmounts stained by the ADPase reaction, and the outer retina was evaluated histologically in paraffin-embedded sections. Retinal gene expression of VEGF-A, TNF-alpha, and mRNAs encoding basement membrane component proteins were quantified by real-time RT-PCR.

Results: The percentage GHb increased significantly in the presence of diabetes (P < 0.001) and was not different between WT or Rho-/- mice. Hypoxia increased in the retina of WT diabetic animals when compared with controls (P < 0.001) but this diabetes-induced change was absent in Rho-/- mice. Retinal gene expression of VEGF-A was significantly increased in WT mice with diabetes (P < 0.05), but was unchanged in Rho-/- mice. TNF-alpha gene expression significantly increased (4.9-fold) in WT mice with diabetes (P < 0.05) and also increased appreciably in Rho-/- mice but to a reduced extent (1.5 fold; P < 0.05). The outer nuclear layer in nondiabetic Rho-/- mice was reduced to a single layer after 6 months, but when diabetes was superimposed on this model, there was less degeneration of photoreceptors (P < 0.05). Vascular density was attenuated in diabetic WT mice compared with the nondiabetic control (P < 0.001); however, this diabetes-related disease was not observed in Rho-/- mice.

Conclusions: Loss of the outer retina reduces the severity of diabetic retinopathy in a murine model. Oxygen usage by the photoreceptors during dark adaptation may contribute to retinal hypoxia and exacerbate the progression of diabetic retinopathy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Apyrase / metabolism
  • Basement Membrane / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental / physiopathology*
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / metabolism
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / physiopathology*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Glycated Hemoglobin / metabolism
  • Glycation End Products, Advanced / metabolism
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Hypoxia / metabolism
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Retinal Vessels / pathology
  • Retinitis Pigmentosa / metabolism
  • Retinitis Pigmentosa / physiopathology*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Rhodopsin / physiology*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / genetics
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / genetics
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / metabolism


  • Glycated Hemoglobin A
  • Glycation End Products, Advanced
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • vascular endothelial growth factor A, mouse
  • Rhodopsin
  • Apyrase