Therapeutic regulation of VE-cadherin with a novel oligonucleotide drug for diabetic eye complications using retinopathy mouse models

Diabetologia. 2019 Feb;62(2):322-334. doi: 10.1007/s00125-018-4770-4. Epub 2018 Nov 15.


Aims/hypothesis: A major feature of diabetic retinopathy is breakdown of the blood-retinal barrier, resulting in macular oedema. We have developed a novel oligonucleotide-based drug, CD5-2, that specifically increases expression of the key junctional protein involved in barrier integrity in endothelial cells, vascular-endothelial-specific cadherin (VE-cadherin). CD5-2 prevents the mRNA silencing by the pro-angiogenic microRNA, miR-27a. CD5-2 was evaluated in animal models of ocular neovascularisation and vascular leak to determine its potential efficacy for diabetic retinopathy.

Methods: CD5-2 was tested in three mouse models of retinal dysfunction: conditional Müller cell depletion, streptozotocin-induced diabetes and oxygen-induced retinopathy. Vascular permeability in the Müller cell-knockout model was assessed by fluorescein angiography. The Evans Blue leakage method was used to determine vascular permeability in streptozotocin- and oxygen-induced retinopathy models. The effects of CD5-2 on retinal neovascularisation, inter-endothelial junctions and pericyte coverage in streptozotocin- and oxygen-induced retinopathy models were determined by staining for isolectin-B4, VE-cadherin and neural/glial antigen 2 (NG2). Blockmir CD5-2 localisation in diseased retina was determined using fluorescent in situ hybridisation. The effects of CD5-2 on VE-cadherin expression and in diabetic retinopathy-associated pathways, such as the transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) and wingless/integrated (WNT) pathway, were confirmed using western blot of lysates from HUVECs, a mouse brain endothelial cell line and a VE-cadherin null mouse endothelial cell line.

Results: CD5-2 penetrated the vasculature of the eye in the oxygen-induced retinopathy model. Treatment of diseased mice with CD5-2 resulted in reduced vascular leak in all three animal models, enhanced expression of VE-cadherin in the microvessels of the eye and improved pericyte coverage of the retinal vasculature in streptozotocin-induced diabetic models and oxygen-induced retinopathy models. Further, CD5-2 reduced the activation of retinal microglial cells in the streptozotocin-induced diabetic model. The positive effects of CD5-2 seen in vivo were further confirmed in vitro by increased protein expression of VE-cadherin, SMAD2/3 activity, and platelet-derived growth factor B (PDGF-B).

Conclusions/interpretation: CD5-2 has therapeutic potential for individuals with vascular-leak-associated retinal diseases based on its ease of delivery and its ability to reverse vascular dysfunction and inflammatory aspects in three animal models of retinopathy.

Keywords: Blood–retinal barrier; Diabetic retinopathy; MicroRNA; Microglia; Müller cells; Neovascularisation; Oligonucleotide; Pericytes; VE-cadherin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism*
  • Blood-Retinal Barrier / metabolism
  • Cadherins / metabolism*
  • Capillary Permeability
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental / drug therapy*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental / metabolism
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / drug therapy*
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Oligonucleotides / therapeutic use*
  • Retina / metabolism
  • Retinal Vessels / metabolism


  • Antigens, CD
  • Cadherins
  • Oligonucleotides
  • cadherin 5