Progressive vision loss in adults has become increasingly prevalent worldwide due to retinopathies associated with aging, genetics, and epigenetic factors that damage the retinal microvasculature. Insufficient supply of oxygen and/or nutrients upregulates factors such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and epidermal growth factor (EGF), which can induce abnormal angiogenesis and damage the structural arrangement of the retinal blood barrier (BRB). Müller glia (MG) regulate the diffusion of essential compounds across the BRB and respond to retinal insults via reactive gliosis, which includes cell hypertrophy, migration, and/or proliferation near areas of elevated VEGF concentration. Increasing concentrations of exogenous VEGF, upregulated by retinal pigmented epithelium cells, and endogenous epidermal growth factor receptor (EGF-R) stimulation in MG, implicated in MG proliferative and migratory behavior, often lead to progressive and permanent vision loss. Our project examined the chemotactic responses of the rMC-1 cell line, a mammalian MG model, toward VEGF and EGF signaling fields in transwell assays, and within respective concentration gradient fields produced in the glia line (gLL) microfluidic system previously described by our group. rMC-1 receptor expression in defined ligand fields was also evaluated using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and immunocytochemical staining. Results illustrate dramatic increases in rMC-1 chemotactic responses towards EGF gradient fields after pre-treatment with VEGF. In addition, qPCR illustrated significant upregulation of EGF-R upon VEGF pre-treatment, which was higher than that induced by its cognate ligand, EGF. These results suggest interplay of molecular pathways between VEGF and EGF-R that have remained understudied in MG but are significant to the development of effective anti-VEGF treatments needed for a variety of retinopathies.
Keywords: EGF-R; Müller glia; VEGF; blood retinal barrier; microfluidics; migration assays; reactive gliosis.