Ferrochelatase regulates retinal neovascularization

Sardar Pasha Sheik Pran Babu, Darcy White, Timothy W. Corson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Ferrochelatase (FECH) is the terminal enzyme in heme biosynthesis. We previously showed that FECH is required for endothelial cell growth in vitro and choroidal neovascularization in vivo. But FECH has not been explored in retinal neovascularization, which underlies diseases like proliferative diabetic retinopathy and retinopathy of prematurity. Here, we investigated the inhibition of FECH using genetic and chemical approaches in the oxygen-induced retinopathy (OIR) mouse model. In OIR mice, FECH expression is upregulated and co-localized with neovascular tufts. Partial loss-of-function Fechm1Pas mutant mice showed reduced retinal neovascularization and endothelial cell proliferation in OIR. An intravitreal injection of the FECH inhibitor N-methyl protoporphyrin had similar effects. Griseofulvin is an antifungal drug that inhibits FECH as an off-target effect. Strikingly, intravitreal griseofulvin decreased both pathological tuft formation and areas of vasoobliteration compared to vehicle, suggesting potential as a FECH-targeting therapy. Ocular toxicity studies revealed that intravitreal injection of griseofulvin in adult mice does not disrupt retinal vasculature, function, or morphology. In sum, mutation and chemical inhibition of Fech reduces retinal neovascularization and promotes physiological angiogenesis, suggesting a dual effect on vascular repair upon FECH inhibition, without ocular toxicity. These findings suggest that FECH inhibitors could be repurposed to treat retinal neovascularization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12419-12435
Number of pages17
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • angiogenesis
  • griseofulvin
  • heme synthesis
  • retina
  • vasculature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics

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