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J Clin Invest. 1994 Jan;93(1):438-42.

Increased expression of basement membrane collagen in human diabetic retinopathy.

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Schepens Eye Research Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114.


Basement membrane thickening is the most prominent and characteristic feature of early diabetic microangiopathy. Unknown is not only the causative process but also whether the thickening reflects increased synthesis of specific components. Because collagen type IV is uniquely present in basement membranes and represents their predominant structural element, we studied its expression in retinas obtained postmortem from five patients with 8 +/- 3 yr of diabetes and six nondiabetic controls. The collagen IV transcript proved to be rare in adult human retina and undetectable by Northern analysis. We thus identified a set of primers and conditions to detect the transcript by the reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction and to measure its level relative to an endogenous internal standard (beta-actin mRNA). In the diabetic patients the levels of collagen IV mRNA were increased twofold over levels in controls, whereas the actin mRNA levels were similar in the two groups. Hence, the collagen IV/actin ratio was 0.53 +/- 0.15 in diabetic samples and 0.24 +/- 0.09 in control samples (P = 0.004). These results indicate that diabetes induces a twofold increase in the expression of collagen IV by the cells that synthesize basement membranes in the adult retina (vascular cells). Insofar as high ambient glucose in vitro elicits the same effect, it may be proposed that basement membrane thickening in diabetes results from enhanced synthesis of specialized component molecules sustained by hyperglycemia.

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