Synaptic neurodegeneration of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) is the earliest event in the pathogenesis of diabetic retinopathy. Our previous study proposed that impairment of mitochondrial trafficking by hyperphosphorylated tau is a potential contributor to RGCs synapse degeneration. However, other molecular mechanisms underlying mitochondrial defect in diabetic retinal neurodegeneration remain to be elucidated. Here, using a high-fat diet (HFD)-induced diabetic mouse model, we showed for the first time that downregulation of active β-catenin due to abnormal GSK3β activation caused synaptic neurodegeneration of RGCs by inhibiting ROS scavenging enzymes, thus triggering oxidative stress-driven mitochondrial impairment in HFD-induced diabetes. Rescue of β-catenin via ectopic expression of β-catenin with a recombinant adenoviral vector, or via GSK3β inhibition by a targeted si-, through intravitreal administration, abrogated the oxidative stress-derived mitochondrial defect and synaptic neurodegeneration in diabetic RGCs. By contrast, ablation of β-catenin by si– abolished the protective effect of GSK3β inhibition on diabetic RGCs by suppression of antioxidant scavengers and augmentation of oxidative stress-driven mitochondrial lesion. Thus, our data identify β-catenin as a part of an endogenous protective system in diabetic RGCs and a promising target to develop intervention strategies that protect RGCs from neurodegeneration at early onset of diabetic retinopathy.

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PubMed