The breakdown of the inner endothelial blood-retinal barrier (BRB) and subsequent retinal vascular leakage are the main causes of vision loss due to diabetic retinopathy (DR). Exendin-4 (E4) is a long-acting agonist of the glucagon-like peptide 1 hormone receptor (GLP-1R) that is widely used in clinics and has shown a neuroprotective effect. Our previous studies demonstrated the protective effect of E4 in early experimental DR; however, the molecular and cellular mechanisms that mediate this protective effect are not fully known. The BRB plays a key role in DR. We speculated that E4 may exert its protective effects on the BRB. To test this hypothesis, E4 (0.1μg/2μL/eye) or vehicle were intravitreally injected into diabetic Goto-Kakizaki(GK) rats and control animals. The results revealed that E4 significantly inhibited the reductions in electroretinogram (ERG) amplitudes in the GK rats, particularly in the b-wave and oscillatory potentials (OPs). E4 upregulated retinal GLP-1R expression and downregulated the expressions of placental growth factor (PLGF) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) via the ERK and AKT/PKB pathways. Decreases in tight junction protein (i.e., claudin-5 and occludin) expression and increases in Evans blue permeation (EBP) were inhibited by E4. Similar results were also found in primary rat Müller cells in high glucose concentration cultures invitro. We conclude that E4 may protect the BRB from diabetic insults by decreasing PLGF and ICAM-1 expression and maintaining the integrity of the BRB. Thus, E4 treatment may be an effective therapeutic approach for DR. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.
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