Objective: To study the effects of an aldose reductase inhibitor (ARI-509, Wyeth-Ayerst, Princeton, NJ) and aminoguanidine (AMG), agents that have been reported to prevent or delay diabetic retinopathy, on retinal vascular abnormalities and the immunocytochemical expression in the retina of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in rats maintained for up to 2 years on a 50% galactose diet.
Methods: Albino rats were placed on a control diet, a diet containing 50% galactose, or the 50% galactose diet containing either ARI-509 or AMG. Treatment with ARI-509 or AMG was initiated at the beginning of the experiment or after 12 months of galactose feeding. After 22 to 24 months, the rats were killed and the retinal vasculature from half of one eye was isolated by trypsin-elastase digestion for semiquantitative evaluation of retinal vascular lesions. The other half of the retina was prepared for immunocytochemistry and stained for the presence of VEGF, factor VIII, vimentin, and glial fibrillary acidic protein. Red blood cells, sciatic nerves, and a portion of the retina from the second eye were assayed for glucose, galactose, fructose, sorbitol, galactitol, and myo-inositol. Red blood cells were also assayed for galactosylated hemoglobin.
Results: Galactose-fed animals developed a vascular retinopathy characterized by severe cellular loss in the retinal capillaries and intensification of periodic acid-Schiff staining of the vascular basement membranes. Some animals also displayed dilation and hypercellularity of vessels in the posterior retina. These changes were substantially reduced in animals receiving ARI-509 from the beginning of the galactose diet, but were unaffected in all of the other treatment groups. None of the rats receiving ARI-509 or AMG treatment, whether initiated from the onset or after 12 months of galactosemia, demonstrated VEGF immunoreactivity. With the exception of the animals receiving ARI-509 from the beginning of the experiment, all of the galactose-fed animals developed dense cataracts within 6 weeks of the beginning of the galactose diet. Galactitol levels in animals receiving ARI-509 were 86% to 93% lower in red blood cells, retina, and sciatic nerve than those in the other galactose-fed groups.
Conclusions: Although ARI-509 and AMG have different abilities to delay or prevent the diabetic-like retinopathy in galactosemic rats, even when substantial retinal microvascular acellularity occurs, both drugs prevent the immunocytochemical expression of VEGF. These results suggest that factors other than hypoxia may be responsible for VEGF expression in the retina, and that aldose reductase inhibitors and AMG have potential roles in preventing such expression and, thus, perhaps preventing retinal neovascularization.