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J Pathol. 2018 Jun;245(2):172-185. doi: 10.1002/path.5070. Epub 2018 Apr 6.

The microenvironment of proliferative diabetic retinopathy supports lymphatic neovascularization.

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Research Programmes Unit, Genome-Scale Biology, Biomedicum Helsinki, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.
Unit of Vitreoretinal Surgery, Ophthalmology, University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital, Helsinki, Finland.
Electron Microscopy Unit, Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.
Department of Microbiology, Tumour, and Cell Biology (MTC), Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) is a major diabetic microvascular complication characterized by pathological angiogenesis. Several retinopathy animal models have been developed to study the disease mechanisms and putative targets. However, knowledge on the human proliferative disease remains incomplete, relying on steady-state results from thin histological neovascular tissue sections and vitreous samples. New translational models are thus required to comprehensively understand the disease pathophysiology and develop improved therapeutic interventions. We describe here a clinically relevant model, whereby the native multicellular PDR landscape and neo(fibro)vascular processes can be analysed ex vivo and related to clinical data. As characterized by three-dimensional whole-mount immunofluorescence and electron microscopy, heterogeneity in patient-derived PDR neovascular tissues included discontinuous capillaries coupled with aberrantly differentiated, lymphatic-like and tortuous endothelia. Spatially confined apoptosis and proliferation coexisted with inflammatory cell infiltration and unique vascular islet formation. Ex vivo-cultured explants retained multicellularity, islet patterning and capillary or fibrotic outgrowth in response to vitreoretinal factors. Strikingly, PDR neovascular tissues, whose matched vitreous samples enhanced lymphatic endothelial cell sprouting, contained lymphatic-like capillaries in vivo and developed Prox1+ capillaries and sprouts with lymphatic endothelial ultrastructures ex vivo. Among multiple vitreal components, vascular endothelial growth factor C was one factor found at lymphatic endothelium-activating concentrations. These results indicate that the ischaemia-induced and inflammation-induced human PDR microenvironment supports pathological neolymphovascularization, providing a new concept regarding PDR mechanisms and targeting options. Copyright © 2018 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


3D models; angiogenesis; diabetic retinopathy; ex vivo; lymphatic neovascularization


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