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J Clin Invest. 2017 Jan 3;127(1):199-214. doi: 10.1172/JCI86418. Epub 2016 Dec 5.

VEGF regulates local inhibitory complement proteins in the eye and kidney.


Outer retinal and renal glomerular functions rely on specialized vasculature maintained by VEGF that is produced by neighboring epithelial cells, the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and podocytes, respectively. Dysregulation of RPE- and podocyte-derived VEGF is associated with neovascularization in wet age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), choriocapillaris degeneration, and glomerular thrombotic microangiopathy (TMA). Since complement activation and genetic variants in inhibitory complement factor H (CFH) are also features of both ARMD and TMA, we hypothesized that VEGF and CFH interact. Here, we demonstrated that VEGF inhibition decreases local CFH and other complement regulators in the eye and kidney through reduced VEGFR2/PKC-α/CREB signaling. Patient podocytes and RPE cells carrying disease-associated CFH genetic variants had more alternative complement pathway deposits than controls. These deposits were increased by VEGF antagonism, a common wet ARMD treatment, suggesting that VEGF inhibition could reduce cellular complement regulatory capacity. VEGF antagonism also increased markers of endothelial cell activation, which was partially reduced by genetic complement inhibition. Together, these results suggest that VEGF protects the retinal and glomerular microvasculature, not only through VEGFR2-mediated vasculotrophism, but also through modulation of local complement proteins that could protect against complement-mediated damage. Though further study is warranted, these findings could be relevant for patients receiving VEGF antagonists.

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Conflict of interest statement

A. Richards is coauthor on a recombinant CFH patent application (PC/P16526GB) and has been employed at GlaxoSmithKline since October 2014. All contributions to this work were undertaken during her Wellcome Trust intermediate clinical fellowship. Her spouse, David Kavanagh, is head of the National Renal Complement Therapeutics Centre, UK, and a board member and scientific advisor to Gyroscope Therapeutics Ltd.

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