Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) A is generated as two isoform families by alternative RNA splicing, represented by VEGF-A165a and VEGF-A165b. These isoforms have opposing actions on vascular permeability, angiogenesis, and vasodilatation. The proangiogenic VEGF-A165a isoform is neuroprotective in hippocampal, dorsal root ganglia, and retinal neurons, but its propermeability, vasodilatatory, and angiogenic properties limit its therapeutic usefulness. In contrast, a neuroprotective effect of endogenous VEGF-A165b on neurons would be advantageous for neurodegenerative pathologies. Endogenous expression of human and rat VEGF-A165b was detected in hippocampal and cortical neurons. VEGF-A165b formed a significant proportion of total VEGF-A in rat brain. Recombinant human VEGF-A165b exerted neuroprotective effects in response to multiple insults, including glutamatergic excitotoxicity in hippocampal neurons, chemotherapy-induced cytotoxicity of dorsal root ganglion neurons, and retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) in rat retinal ischemia-reperfusion injury in vivo. Neuroprotection was dependent on VEGFR2 and MEK1/2 activation but not on p38 or phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase activation. Recombinant human VEGF-A165b is a neuroprotective agent that effectively protects both peripheral and central neurons in vivo and in vitro through VEGFR2, MEK1/2, and inhibition of caspase-3 induction. VEGF-A165b may be therapeutically useful for pathologies that involve neuronal damage, including hippocampal neurodegeneration, glaucoma diabetic retinopathy, and peripheral neuropathy. The endogenous nature of VEGF-A165b expression suggests that non-isoform-specific inhibition of VEGF-A (for antiangiogenic reasons) may be damaging to retinal and sensory neurons.
Copyright © 2013 American Society for Investigative Pathology. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.