Breakdown of the inner blood-retinal barrier (iBRB) occurs early in diabetes and is central to the development of sight-threatening diabetic macular edema (DME) as retinopathy progresses. In the current study, we examined how advanced glycation end products (AGEs) forming early in diabetes could modulate vasopermeability factor expression in the diabetic retina and alter inter-endothelial cell tight junction (TJ) integrity leading to iBRB dysfunction. We also investigated the potential for an AGE inhibitor to prevent this acute pathology and examined a role of the AGE-binding protein galectin-3 (Gal-3) in AGE-mediated cell retinal pathophysiology. Diabetes was induced in C57/BL6 wild-type (WT) mice and in Gal-3-/- transgenic mice. Blood glucose was monitored and AGE levels were quantified by ELISA and immunohistochemistry. The diabetic groups were subdivided, and one group was treated with the AGE-inhibitor pyridoxamine (PM) while separate groups of WT and Gal-3-/- mice were maintained as nondiabetic controls. iBRB integrity was assessed by Evans blue assay alongside visualisation of TJ protein complexes via occludin-1 immunolocalization in retinal flat mounts. Retinal expression levels of the vasopermeability factor VEGF were quantified using real-time RT-PCR and ELISA. WT diabetic mice showed significant AGE-immunoreactivity in the retinal microvasculature and also showed significant iBRB breakdown (P < .005). These diabetics had higher VEGF mRNA and protein expression in comparison to controls (P < .01). PM-treated diabetics had normal iBRB function and significantly reduced diabetes-mediated VEGF expression. Diabetic retinal vessels showed disrupted TJ integrity when compared to controls, while PM-treated diabetics demonstrated near-normal configuration. Gal-3-/- mice showed significantly less diabetes-mediated iBRB dysfunction, junctional disruption, and VEGF expression changes than their WT counterparts. The data suggests an AGE-mediated disruption of iBRB via upregulation of VEGF in the diabetic retina, possibly modulating disruption of TJ integrity, even after acute diabetes. Prevention of AGE formation or genetic deletion of Gal-3 can effectively prevent these acute diabetic retinopathy changes.
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