Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of irreversible central vision loss in the elderly. The pathology of neovascular age-related macular degeneration (nAMD), also known as wet AMD, is associated with an abnormal blood vessel growth in the eye and involves an imbalance of proangiogenic and antiangiogenic factors. Thrombospondin (TSP)-1 and TSP-2 are endogenous matricellular proteins that inhibit angiogenesis. TSP-1 is significantly diminished in eyes with AMD, although the mechanisms involved in its reduction are unknown. Granzyme B (GzmB) is a serine protease with an increased extracellular activity in the outer retina and choroid of human eyes with nAMD-related choroidal neovascularization (CNV). This study investigated whether TSP-1 and TSP-2 are GzmB substrates using in silico and cell-free cleavage assays and explored the relationship between GzmB and TSP-1 in human eyes with nAMD-related CNV and the effect of GzmB on TSP-1 in retinal pigment epithelial culture and an explant choroid sprouting assay (CSA). In this study, TSP-1 and TSP-2 were identified as GzmB substrates. Cell-free cleavage assays substantiated the GzmB proteolysis of TSP-1 and TSP-2 by showing dose-dependent and time-dependent cleavage products. TSP-1 and TSP-2 proteolysis were hindered by the inhibition of GzmB. In the retinal pigment epithelium and choroid of human eyes with CNV, we observed a significant inverse correlation between TSP-1 and GzmB, as indicated by lower TSP-1 and higher GzmB immunoreactivity. In CSA, the vascular sprouting area increased significantly with GzmB treatment and reduced significantly with TSP-1 treatment. Western blot showed significantly reduced expression of TSP-1 in GzmB-treated retinal pigment epithelial cell culture and CSA supernatant compared with that in controls. Together, our findings suggest that the proteolysis of antiangiogenic factors such as TSP-1 by extracellular GzmB might represent a mechanism through which GzmB may contribute to nAMD-related CNV. Future studies are needed to investigate whether pharmacologic inhibition of extracellular GzmB can mitigate nAMD-related CNV by preserving intact TSP-1.
Keywords: age-related macular degeneration; choroidal neovascularization; granzyme B; proteolysis; thrombospondin.
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