Aims/hypothesis: Our recent studies suggest that activation of the wingless-type MMTV integration site (WNT) pathway plays pathogenic roles in diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration. Here we investigated the causative role of oxidative stress in retinal WNT pathway activation in an experimental model of diabetes.
Methods: Cultured retinal pigment epithelial cells and retinal capillary endothelial cells were treated with a lipid peroxidation product, 4-hydroxynonenal (HNE), and an antioxidant, N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC). In vivo, rats with streptozotocin-induced diabetes were treated by NAC for 8 weeks. Activation of the canonical WNT pathway was measured by TOPFLASH assay and by western blot analysis of WNT pathway components and a WNT target gene, Ctgf. Oxidative stress in the retina was evaluated by immunostaining of HNE and 3-nitrotyrosine.
Results: Levels of phosphorylated and total LDL receptor-related protein (LRP)6, and cytosolic β-catenin, as well as transcriptional activity of T cell factor (TCF)/β-catenin were significantly increased by HNE. The production of connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) was also upregulated by HNE. NAC blocked the WNT pathway activation induced by HNE. Furthermore, LRP6 stability was increased by HNE and decreased by NAC. Retinal levels of HNE and 3-nitrotyrosine were significantly increased in diabetic rats, compared with those in non-diabetic rats. In the same diabetic rat retinas, levels of LRP6, cytosolic β-catenin and CTGF were significantly increased. NAC treatment reduced HNE and 3-nitrotyrosine levels and attenuated the upregulation of LRP6, β-catenin and CTGF in diabetic rat retina.
Conclusions/interpretation: Lipid peroxidation products activate the canonical WNT pathway through oxidative stress, which plays an important role in the development of retinal diseases.