Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is characterized by a progressive alteration of the retinal microvasculature, arising from microaneurysms to leaky vessels and finally abnormal neovascularization. The hyperglycemia-mediated loss of pericytes is a key event in vessel degeneration causing vascular destabilization. To overcome this, mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) have been tested as pericyte replacement in several animal models showing repair and regeneration of DR-damaged vasculature.
We hypothesized that adipose-derived mesenchymal stromal cells (ASCs) resist high glucose-induced challenges and protect human retinal microvascular endothelial cells (HRMVECs) from glucose-mediated injury. ASCs and HRMVECs were cultured under normal-glucose (NG; 1 g/L) and high-glucose (HG; 4.5 g/L) conditions comparing their phenotype and angiogenic potential.
Whereas ASCs were generally unaffected by HG, HG caused a reduction of the angiogenic potential in HRMVEC. Indeed, HG-treated HRMVECs formed fewer vascular tube structures in a basement membrane angiogenesis assay. However, this was not observed in a direct ASC and HRMVEC coculture angiogenesis assay. Increased oxidative stress levels appeared to be linked to the HG-induced reduction of angiogenesis, which could be restored by ASC-conditioned medium and antioxidant treatment.
These findings suggest that ASC resist HG-stress whereas endothelial cell angiogenic capacity is reduced. Thus, ASC may be potentially therapeutically active in DR by restoring angiogenic deficits in retinal endothelial cells by the secretion of proangiogenic factors. However, these data also inquire for a thorough risk assessment about the timing of the ASC-based cell therapy, which can be considered advantageous at early stage of DR, but possibly detrimental at the late neo-angiogenic stage of DR.
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