Role of endothelin in diabetic retinopathy

Hing-Chung Lam, Jenn-Kuen Lee, Chih-Chen Lu, Chih-Hsun Chu, Ming-Ju Chuang, Mei-Chun Wang
Current Vascular Pharmacology 2003, 1 (3): 243-50
Endothelin-1 (ET-1) is a 21 amino acid peptide originally purified from conditioned medium of cultures of porcine aortic endothelial cells. It is now known that there are three endothelin genes in the human genome (ET-1, ET-2, and ET-3 genes). ET-1 and ET-2 are both strong vasoconstrictors, whereas ET-3 is a potentially weaker vasoconstrictor compared to the other two isoforms. Besides being a very potent vasoconstrictor, ET-1 also acts as a mitogen on the vascular smooth muscle and thus it may play a role in the development of vascular diseases. There is evidence that impaired auto-regulation of blood flow is involved in the pathogenesis of diabetic microangiopathy. It is known that the ability of the diabetic's circulation to distribute blood is affected, especially during increased blood flow. In most tissues this causes no serious burden, but three tissues are usually susceptible to disturbance. They are the retina, renal cortex, and peripheral nerves. Retinal vascular auto-regulation is defined as the ability of the blood vessels to keep blood flow constant under varying perfusion pressure in order to match it to tissue oxygen and metabolic requirements. The failure of auto-regulation is an important and often early feature of diabetic retinopathy. Since human retina vessels lack extrinsic innervation, retinal vessel calibre and local blood flow are normally regulated by non-nervous mechanisms intrinsic to the retina. There is now a considerable body of evidence suggesting that retinal pericytes are the main regulators of vascular tone in the retinal capillaries because they contain components of contractile proteins similar to vascular smooth muscle cells and because they also possess ET-1 receptors. Furthermore. ET-1 has been shown to cause vasoconstriction of retinal vessels as well as to have mitogenic effects on retinal pericytes. Hence, alterations in the pericyte-ET interaction may have a role causing early hemodynamic and histopathological abnormalities found in diabetic retinopathy. On the contrary, Chakrabarti et al. demonstrate that retinas from the chronic diabetic BB/W rats (6 months) show an increase in ET-1, ET-3, ET(A) receptor and ET(B) receptor mRNA expressions when compared to those from control rats. Similar results are noted by them using immunohistochemical methods. Finally, an increased ocular, and retina tissue levels of ET-1 in diabetic rats have also been reported by Chakravarthy et al., as well as by Takagi et al. All of these findings suggest that endothelins may also be involved in the pathogenesis of more advanced diabetic retinopathy, such as capillary occlusion and subsequent neovascularization. This review summarizes the reported literature on the role of ET-1 in the development of diabetic retinopathy.

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