Photoreceptor cells are major contributors to diabetes-induced oxidative stress and local inflammation in the retina

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Oct 8;110(41):16586-91. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1314575110. Epub 2013 Sep 25.


Accumulating evidence suggests that photoreceptor cells play a previously unappreciated role in the development of early stages of diabetic retinopathy, but the mechanism by which this occurs is not clear. Inhibition of oxidative stress is known to inhibit the vascular lesions of early diabetic retinopathy, and we investigated whether the diabetes-induced oxidative stress in the retina emanates from photoreceptors. Superoxide generation was assessed in retinas of male C57BL/6J mice made diabetic for 2 mo (4 mo of age when killed) using histochemical (dichlorofluorescein and dihydroethidine) and bioluminescence (lucigenin) methods. Photoreceptors were eliminated in vivo by genetic (opsin(-/-)) and chemical (iodoacetic acid) techniques. Immunoblots were used to measure expression of intercellular adhesion molecule 1 and the inducible form of nitric oxide synthase. Diabetes increased the generation of superoxide by diabetic mouse retina more at night than during the day. Photoreceptors were the major source of reactive oxygen species in the retina, and their deletion (either genetically in opsin(-/-) mice or acutely with iodoacetic acid) inhibited the expected diabetes-induced increase in superoxide and inflammatory proteins in the remaining retina. Both mitochondria and NADPH oxidase contributed to the observed retinal superoxide generation, which could be inhibited in vivo with either methylene blue or apocynin. Photoreceptors are the major source of superoxide generated by retinas of diabetic mice. Pharmaceuticals targeting photoreceptor oxidative stress could offer a unique therapy for diabetic retinopathy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acridines
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental / complications*
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / etiology
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Histological Techniques
  • Immunoblotting
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology*
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / metabolism*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Retina / pathology*


  • Acridines
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • 10,10'-dimethyl-9,9'-biacridinium