Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults. It is caused by oxygen starvation in the retina inducing aberrant formation of blood vessels that destroy retinal architecture. In humans, vitreal stromal cell-derived factor-1 (SDF-1) concentration increases as proliferative diabetic retinopathy progresses. Treatment of patients with triamcinolone decreases SDF-1 levels in the vitreous, with marked disease improvement. SDF-1 induces human retinal endothelial cells to increase expression of VCAM-1, a receptor for very late antigen-4 found on many hematopoietic progenitors, and reduce tight cellular junctions by reducing occludin expression. Both changes would serve to recruit hematopoietic and endothelial progenitor cells along an SDF-1 gradient. We have shown, using a murine model of proliferative adult retinopathy, that the majority of new vessels formed in response to oxygen starvation originate from hematopoietic stem cell-derived endothelial progenitor cells. We now show that the levels of SDF-1 found in patients with proliferative retinopathy induce retinopathy in our murine model. Intravitreal injection of blocking antibodies to SDF-1 prevented retinal neovascularization in our murine model, even in the presence of exogenous VEGF. Together, these data demonstrate that SDF-1 plays a major role in proliferative retinopathy and may be an ideal target for the prevention of proliferative retinopathy.
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