Activation of the Wnt pathway plays a pathogenic role in diabetic retinopathy in humans and animal models

Am J Pathol. 2009 Dec;175(6):2676-85. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2009.080945. Epub 2009 Nov 5.


Although Wnt signaling is known to mediate multiple biological and pathological processes, its association with diabetic retinopathy (DR) has not been established. Here we show that retinal levels and nuclear translocation of beta-catenin, a key effector in the canonical Wnt pathway, were increased in humans with DR and in three DR models. Retinal levels of low-density lipoprotein receptor-related proteins 5 and 6, coreceptors of Wnts, were also elevated in the DR models. The high glucose-induced activation of beta-catenin was attenuated by aminoguanidine, suggesting that oxidative stress is a direct cause for the Wnt pathway activation in diabetes. Indeed, Dickkopf homolog 1, a specific inhibitor of the Wnt pathway, ameliorated retinal inflammation, vascular leakage, and retinal neovascularization in the DR models. Dickkopf homolog 1 also blocked the generation of reactive oxygen species induced by high glucose, suggesting that Wnt signaling contributes to the oxidative stress in diabetes. These observations indicate that the Wnt pathway plays a pathogenic role in DR and represents a novel therapeutic target.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / metabolism*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mice
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Retina / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Wnt Proteins / metabolism*


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Wnt Proteins