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Neutrophil-Derived Proteases Contribute to the Pathogenesis of Early Diabetic Retinopathy



Previous studies indicate that leukocytes, notably neutrophils, play a causal role in the capillary degeneration observed in diabetic retinopathy (DR), however, the mechanism by which they cause such degeneration is unknown. Neutrophil elastase (NE) is a protease released by neutrophils which participates in a variety of inflammatory diseases. In the present work, we investigated the potential involvement of NE in the development of early DR.


Experimental diabetes was induced in NE-deficient mice (Elane-/-), in mice treated daily with the NE inhibitor, sivelestat, and in mice overexpressing human alpha-1 antitrypsin (hAAT+). Mice were assessed for diabetes-induced retinal superoxide generation, inflammation, leukostasis, and capillary degeneration.


In mice diabetic for 2 months, deletion of NE or selective inhibition of NE inhibited diabetes-induced retinal superoxide levels and inflammation, and inhibited leukocyte-mediated cytotoxicity of retinal endothelial cells. In mice diabetic for 8 months, genetic deletion of NE significantly inhibited diabetes-induced retinal capillary degeneration.


These results suggest that a protease released from neutrophils contributes to the development of DR, and that blocking NE activity could be a novel therapy to inhibit DR.

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