Diabetic retinal neurodegeneration is associated with mitochondrial oxidative stress and is improved by an angiotensin receptor blocker in a model combining hypertension and diabetes

Diabetes. 2009 Jun;58(6):1382-90. doi: 10.2337/db09-0166. Epub 2009 Mar 16.


Objective: Diabetic retinopathy displays the features of a neurodegenerative disease. Oxidative stress is involved in the pathogenesis of diabetic retinopathy. This investigation sought to determine whether hypertension exacerbates the oxidative stress, neurodegeneration, and mitochondrial dysfunction that exists in diabetic retinopathy and whether these changes could be minimized by the angiotensin II type 1 (AT(1)) receptor blocker (ARB) losartan.

Research design and methods: Diabetes was induced in spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHRs) and normotensive Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rats. The diabetic SHRs were assigned to receive or not receive losartan.

Results: The level of apoptosis in the retina was higher in diabetic WKY rats than in the control group, and higher levels were found in diabetic SHRs. The apoptotic cells expressed neural and glial markers. The retinal glial reaction was more evident in diabetic WKY rats and was markedly accentuated in diabetic SHRs. Superoxide production in retinal tissue increased in diabetic WKY rats, and a greater increase occurred in diabetic SHRs. Glutathione levels decreased only in diabetic SHRs. As a consequence, the levels of nitrotyrosine and 8-hydroxy 2'-deoxyguanosine, markers of oxidative stress, were elevated in diabetic groups, mainly in diabetic SHRs. Mitochondrial integrity was dramatically affected in the diabetic groups. The ARB treatment reestablished all of the above-mentioned parameters.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that concomitance of hypertension and diabetes exacerbates oxidative stress, neurodegeneration, and mitochondrial dysfunction in the retinal cells. These data provide the first evidence of AT(1)blockage as a neuroprotective treatment of diabetic retinopathy by reestablishing oxidative redox and the mitochondrial function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Angiotensin Receptor Antagonists*
  • Animals
  • DNA Damage
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental / complications*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / drug therapy
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / physiopathology*
  • Hypertension / complications*
  • Hypertension / genetics
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Losartan / therapeutic use*
  • Mitochondria / physiology*
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred SHR
  • Rats, Inbred WKY


  • Angiotensin Receptor Antagonists
  • Losartan