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Nat Med. 2003 Jun;9(6):781-8. Epub 2003 May 5.

Leukocytes mediate retinal vascular remodeling during development and vaso-obliteration in disease.

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Angiogenesis/Retina Research Laboratory, Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, 325 Cambridge Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA.


Retinal ischemia can cause vision-threatening pathological neovascularization. The mechanisms of retinal ischemia are not fully understood, however. Here we have shown that leukocytes prune the retinal vasculature during normal development and obliterate it in disease. Beginning at postnatal day 5 (P5) in the normal rat, vascular pruning began centrally and extended peripherally, leaving behind a less dense, smaller-caliber vasculature. The pruning was correlated with retinal vascular expression of intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) and coincided with an outward-moving wave of adherent leukocytes composed in part of cytotoxic T lymphocytes. The leukocytes adhered to the vasculature through CD18 and remodeled it through Fas ligand (FasL)-mediated endothelial cell apoptosis. In a model of oxygen-induced ischemic retinopathy, this process was exaggerated. Leukocytes used CD18 and FasL to obliterate the retinal vasculature, leaving behind large areas of ischemic retina. In vitro, T lymphocytes isolated from oxygen-exposed neonates induced a FasL-mediated apoptosis of hyperoxygenated endothelial cells. Targeting these pathways may prove useful in the treatment of retinal ischemia, a leading cause of vision loss and blindness.

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