Author(s): Wang S, Liu Y, Tan JW, Hu T, Zhang HF, Sorenson CM, Smith JA, Sheibani N. Tunicamycin-induced photoreceptor atrophy precedes degeneration of retinal capillaries with minimal effects on retinal ganglion and pigment epithelium cells. Exp Eye Res. 2019 Oct;187:107756. doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2019.107756. Epub 2019 Aug 14.
Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress is recognized as a contributing factor to various ocular neurovascular pathologies including retinitis pigmentosa, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy (DR). ER stress in particular is implicated in the development of DR, which is significantly influenced by inflammation driven retinal vascular degeneration and dysfunction. Ultimately, loss of vision occurs if left untreated. However, the identity of the target cells and their temporal involvement in diabetes-mediated dysfunction need further investigation. Early diabetes-induced stress in photoreceptor cells is proposed as the driver of inflammatory mediated neurovascular changes during diabetes. Although tunicamycin induced ER stress results in photoreceptor loss, its consequences for retinal vascular degeneration and retinal ganglion (RGC) and pigment epithelium (RPE) cell loss remains unclear. Here we show intravitreal delivery of tunicamycin primarily induced ER stress in photoreceptor cells resulting in their loss by apoptosis. This was concomitant with induced expression of the unfolded protein response marker CHOP in these cells. We also demonstrated significant degeneration of retinal capillaries following the loss of photoreceptor cells with minimal impact on loss of RGC and RPE cells. However, activation of retinal microglial and Muller cells were noticeable. Thus, our data support the notion that ER stress mediated dysfunction and/or loss of photoreceptor cells in response to inflammation and oxidative stress could precede retinal vascular and neuronal dysfunction and degeneration.