Diabetes can lead to vision loss because of progressive degeneration of the neurovascular unit in the retina, a condition known as diabetic retinopathy. In its early stages, the pathology is characterized by microangiopathies, including microaneurysms, microhemorrhages, and nerve layer infarcts known as cotton-wool spots. Analyses of postmortem human retinal tissue and retinas from animal models indicate that degeneration of the pericytes, which constitute the outer layer of capillaries, is an early event in diabetic retinopathy; however, the relative contribution of specific cellular components to the pathobiology of diabetic retinopathy remains to be defined. We investigated the phenotypic consequences of pericyte death on retinal microvascular integrity by using nondiabetic mice conditionally expressing a diphtheria toxin receptor in mural cells. Five days after administering diphtheria toxin in these adult mice, changes were observed in the retinal vasculature that were similar to those observed in diabetes, including microaneurysms and increased vascular permeability, suggesting that pericyte cell loss is sufficient to trigger retinal microvascular degeneration. Therapies aimed at preventing or delaying pericyte dropout may avoid or attenuate the retinal microangiopathy associated with diabetes.
Valdez, C. N., Arboleda-Velasquez, J. F., Amarnani, D. S., Kim, L. A., & D’Amore, P. A. (2014). Retinal microangiopathy in a mouse model of inducible mural cell loss. American Journal of Pathology, 184(10), 2618–2626. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajpath.2014.06.011