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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Nov 3;106(44):18751-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0905010106. Epub 2009 Oct 19.

An essential role for RPE-derived soluble VEGF in the maintenance of the choriocapillaris.

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Department of Ophthalmology, Schepens Eye Research Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA.


Clinical and experimental observations indicate a role for VEGF secreted by the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) in the maintenance of the choriocapillaris (CC). VEGF in mice is produced as three isoforms, VEGF120, VEGF164, and VEGF188, that differ in their ability to bind heparan sulfate proteoglycan. RPE normally produces the more soluble isoforms, VEGF120 and VEGF164, but virtually no VEGF188, reflecting the fact that molecules secreted by the RPE must diffuse across Bruch's membrane (BrM) to reach the choriocapillaris. To determine the role of RPE-derived soluble VEGF on the choriocapillaris survival, we used mice that produce only VEGF188. VEGF188/188 mice exhibited normal choriocapillaris development. However, beginning at 7 months of age, we observed a progressive degeneration characterized by choriocapillaris atrophy, RPE and BrM abnormalities, culminating in areas of RPE loss and dramatic choroidal remodeling. Increased photoreceptor apoptosis in aged VEGF188/188 mice led to a decline in visual acuity as detected by electroretinogram (ERG). These changes are reminiscent of geographic atrophy (GA) and point to a role for RPE-derived VEGF in the maintenance of the choriocapillaris.

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