Background: Ischemic proliferative retinopathy, characterized by pathological retinal neovascularization, is a major cause of blindness in working-age adults and children. Defining the molecular pathways distinguishing pathological neovascularization from normal vessels is critical to controlling these blinding diseases with targeted therapy. Because mutations in Wnt signaling cause defective retinal vasculature in humans with some characteristics of the pathological vessels in retinopathy, we investigated the potential role of Wnt signaling in pathological retinal vascular growth in proliferative retinopathy.
Methods and results: In this study, we show that Wnt receptors (Frizzled4 and low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein5 [Lrp5]) and activity are significantly increased in pathological neovascularization in a mouse model of oxygen-induced proliferative retinopathy. Loss of Wnt coreceptor Lrp5 and downstream signaling molecule dishevelled2 significantly decreases the formation of pathological retinal neovascularization in retinopathy. Loss of Lrp5 also affects retinal angiogenesis during development and formation of the blood-retinal barrier, which is linked to significant downregulation of tight junction protein claudin5 in Lrp5(-/-) vessels. Blocking claudin5 significantly suppresses Wnt pathway-driven endothelial cell sprouting in vitro and developmental and pathological vascular growth in retinopathy in vivo.
Conclusions: These results demonstrate an important role of Wnt signaling in pathological vascular development in retinopathy and show a novel function of Cln5 in promoting angiogenesis.