Molecular regulation of vascular endothelial growth factor expression in the retinal pigment epithelium

Mol Vis. 2012;18:519-27. Epub 2012 Mar 1.


Purpose: Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) plays an important role in homeostasis and diseases of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), choriocapillaris, and, most notably, age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Although much is known about VEGF regulation in pathologies, little is known about the control of VEGF expression under normal conditions. VEGF expression has been previously shown to be regulated in coordination with cell differentiation in the muscle and kidney. We therefore tested the hypothesis that VEGF in the adult RPE would similarly be regulated in conjunction with differentiation.

Methods: A human retinal pigment epithelium cell line (ARPE-19), a line of immortalized human RPE cells, was used for all experiments. RPE cells were polarized in culture for 4 weeks on laminin-coated Transwells. Levels of VEGF mRNA and protein were determined with real-time PCR and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, respectively. VEGF-luciferase reporter constructs were used to identify regions of the VEGF promoter that control VEGF expression in the RPE. Microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF)-Tfe transcription factors were blocked using either a pan MITF-Tfe dominant negative or specific small interfering RNA (siRNA).

Results: VEGF mRNA and protein secretion increased over time in the RPE cells cultured on Transwells, with protein secretion occurring in a polarized fashion primarily toward the basolateral side. Overexpression of a dominant negative that targets the MITF-Tfe family resulted in a 50% reduction in VEGF expression. The role of the MITF-Tfe family in VEGF regulation in the RPE was corroborated in studies with the VEGF-luciferase reporter constructs, where deletion of the distal VEGF promoter region containing putative binding sites for the MITF-Tfe family resulted in a 50% reduction in VEGF promoter activity. siRNA knockdown of the MITF-Tfe family individually, and in combination, revealed that downregulation of Tfe3 resulted in reduced VEGF expression.

Conclusions: Our results indicate that Tfe3, in conjunction with other MITF-Tfe members, regulates VEGF expression in the RPE and are consistent with the hypothesis that VEGF expression in RPE cells is regulated as part of their differentiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics*
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Polarity
  • Diffusion Chambers, Culture
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Humans
  • Luciferases
  • Microphthalmia-Associated Transcription Factor / genetics
  • Microphthalmia-Associated Transcription Factor / metabolism
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • RNA, Messenger / biosynthesis*
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • Retinal Pigment Epithelium / cytology
  • Retinal Pigment Epithelium / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / genetics
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / metabolism*


  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors
  • MITF protein, human
  • Microphthalmia-Associated Transcription Factor
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • TFE3 protein, human
  • VEGFA protein, human
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Luciferases