Purpose: Neovascularization is a major cause of blindness in various ocular diseases. Bioactive sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P), synthesized by two sphingosine kinases (Sphk1, Sphk2), emerged as a key player in a multitude of cellular processes, including cell survival, proliferation, inflammation, migration, and angiogenesis. We investigated the role of Sphk2, S1P, and S1P receptors (S1PR) during retinal neovascularization using the oxygen-induced retinopathy mouse model (OIR).
Methods: Sphk2 overexpressing (tgSphk2) and Sphk2 knockout (Sphk2-/-) mice were used in the OIR model, exposed to 75% O2 over 5 days from postnatal day (P)7 to 12 to initiate vessel regression. After returning to room air, these mice developed a marked neovascularization. Retinae recovered from untreated and treated eyes at P7, P12, P14, and P17 were used for lectin-stained retinal whole mounts, mass spectrometry, and quantitative real-time PCR.
Results: tgSphk2 mice showed higher retinal S1P concentrations, accelerated retinal angiogenesis, and increased neovascularization. Expression of S1PR, vascular endothelial growth factor α (VEGFα), and angiopoietin 1 and 2 was differentially regulated during the course of OIR in the different genotypes. Sphk2-/- displayed a markedly reduced retinal angiogenesis and neovascularization as well as decreased VEGFα and angiopoietin expression.
Conclusions: Using genetic models of Sphk2 overexpression or deletion we demonstrate a strong impact of Sphk2/S1P on retinal vasculopathy and expression of vascular growth factors like VEGF and angiopoietin in the retina. Consequently, Sphk2, S1P, and S1PR may offer attractive novel therapeutic targets for ischemic retinopathies.