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1.  MicroRNA-15b regulates mitochondrial ROS production and the senescence-associated secretory phenotype through sirtuin 4/SIRT4 
Aging (Albany NY)  2016;8(3):484-505.
Mammalian sirtuins are involved in the control of metabolism and life-span regulation. Here, we link the mitochondrial sirtuin SIRT4 with cellular senescence, skin aging, and mitochondrial dysfunction. SIRT4 expression significantly increased in human dermal fibroblasts undergoing replicative or stress-induced senescence triggered by UVB or gamma-irradiation. In-vivo, SIRT4 mRNA levels were upregulated in photoaged vs. non-photoaged human skin. Interestingly, in all models of cellular senescence and in photoaged skin, upregulation of SIRT4 expression was associated with decreased levels of miR-15b. The latter was causally linked to increased SIRT4 expression because miR-15b targets a functional binding site in the SIRT4 gene and transfection of oligonucleotides mimicking miR-15b function prevented SIRT4 upregulation in senescent cells. Importantly, increased SIRT4 negatively impacted on mitochondrial functions and contributed to the development of a senescent phenotype. Accordingly, we observed that inhibition of miR-15b, in a SIRT4-dependent manner, increased generation of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species, decreased mitochondrial membrane potential, and modulated mRNA levels of nuclear encoded mitochondrial genes and components of the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). Thus, miR-15b is a negative regulator of stress-induced SIRT4 expression thereby counteracting senescence associated mitochondrial dysfunction and regulating the SASP and possibly organ aging, such as photoaging of human skin.
PMCID: PMC4833141  PMID: 26959556
MicroRNA-15b/miR-15b; nuclear encoded mitochondrial genes; photoaging; reactive oxygen species/ROS; senescence; senescence associated secretory phenotype/SASP; SIRT4/Sirtuin 4; skin
2.  Mutations in the unfolded protein response regulator ATF6 cause the cone dysfunction disorder achromatopsia 
Nature genetics  2015;47(7):757-765.
Achromatopsia (ACHM) is an autosomal recessive disorder characterized by color blindness, photophobia, nystagmus and severely reduced visual acuity. Using homozygosity mapping and whole-exome and candidate gene sequencing, we identified ten families carrying six homozygous and two compound-heterozygous mutations in the ATF6 gene (encoding activating transcription factor 6A), a key regulator of the unfolded protein response (UPR) and cellular endoplasmic reticulum (ER) homeostasis. Patients had evidence of foveal hypoplasia and disruption of the cone photoreceptor layer. The ACHM-associated ATF6 mutations attenuate ATF6 transcriptional activity in response to ER stress. Atf6−/− mice have normal retinal morphology and function at a young age but develop rod and cone dysfunction with increasing age. This new ACHM-related gene suggests a crucial and unexpected role for ATF6A in human foveal development and cone function and adds to the list of genes that, despite ubiquitous expression, when mutated can result in an isolated retinal photoreceptor phenotype.
PMCID: PMC4610820  PMID: 26029869
3.  Scale Adjustments to Facilitate Two-Dimensional Measurements in OCT Images 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(6):e0131154.
To address the problem of unequal scales for the measurement of two-dimensional structures in OCT images, and demonstrate the use of intra¬ocular objects of known dimensions in the murine eye for the equal calibration of axes.
The first part of this work describes the mathematical foundation of major distortion effects introduced by X-Y scaling differences. Illustrations were generated with CorelGraph X3 software. The second part bases on image data obtained with a HRA2 Spectralis (Heidelberg Engineering) in SV129 wild-type mice. Subretinally and intravitreally implanted microbeads, alginate capsules with a diameter of 154±5 μm containing GFP-marked mesenchymal stem cells (CellBeads), were used as intraocular objects for calibration.
The problems encountered with two-dimensional measurements in cases of unequal scales are demonstrated and an estimation of the resulting errors is provided. Commonly, the Y axis is reliably calibrated using outside standards like histology or manufacturer data. We show here that intraocular objects like dimensionally stable spherical alginate capsules allow for a two-dimensional calibration of the acquired OCT raw images by establishing a relation between X and Y axis data. For our setup, a correction factor of about 3.3 was determined using both epiretinally and subretinally positioned beads (3.350 ± 0.104 and 3.324 ± 0.083, respectively).
In this work, we highlight the distortion-related problems in OCT image analysis induced by unequal X and Y scales. As an exemplary case, we provide data for a two-dimensional in vivo OCT image calibration in mice using intraocular alginate capsules. Our results demonstrate the need for a proper two-dimensional calibration of OCT data, and we believe that equal scaling will certainly improve the efficiency of OCT image analysis.
PMCID: PMC4482384  PMID: 26110792
4.  Elk3 Deficiency Causes Transient Impairment in Post-Natal Retinal Vascular Development and Formation of Tortuous Arteries in Adult Murine Retinae 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e107048.
Serum Response Factor (SRF) fulfills essential roles in post-natal retinal angiogenesis and adult neovascularization. These functions have been attributed to the recruitment by SRF of the cofactors Myocardin-Related Transcription Factors MRTF-A and -B, but not the Ternary Complex Factors (TCFs) Elk1 and Elk4. The role of the third TCF, Elk3, remained unknown. We generated a new Elk3 knockout mouse line and showed that Elk3 had specific, non-redundant functions in the retinal vasculature. In Elk3(−/−) mice, post-natal retinal angiogenesis was transiently delayed until P8, after which it proceeded normally. Interestingly, tortuous arteries developed in Elk3(−/−) mice from the age of four weeks, and persisted into late adulthood. Tortuous vessels have been observed in human pathologies, e.g. in ROP and FEVR. These human disorders were linked to altered activities of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in the affected eyes. However, in Elk3(−/−) mice, we did not observe any changes in VEGF or several other potential confounding factors, including mural cell coverage and blood pressure. Instead, concurrent with the post-natal transient delay of radial outgrowth and the formation of adult tortuous arteries, Elk3-dependent effects on the expression of Angiopoietin/Tie-signalling components were observed. Moreover, in vitro microvessel sprouting and microtube formation from P10 and adult aortic ring explants were reduced. Collectively, these results indicate that Elk3 has distinct roles in maintaining retinal artery integrity. The Elk3 knockout mouse is presented as a new animal model to study retinal artery tortuousity in mice and human patients.
PMCID: PMC4159304  PMID: 25203538
5.  Alterations of the Tunica Vasculosa Lentis in the Rat Model of Retinopathy of Prematurity 
To study the relation between retinal and tunica vasculosa lentis (TVL) disease in ROP. Although the clinical hallmark of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is abnormal retinal blood vessels, the vessels of the anterior segment, including the TVL, are also altered.
ROP was induced in Long Evans pigmented and Sprague-Dawley albino rats; room-air-reared (RAR) rats served as controls. Then, fluorescein angiographic images of the TVL and retinal vessels were serially obtained with a scanning laser ophthalmoscope (SLO) near the height of retinal vascular disease, ∼20 days-of-age, and again at 30 and 64 days-of-age. Additionally, electroretinograms (ERGs) were obtained prior to the first imaging session. The TVL images were analyzed for percent coverage of the posterior lens. The tortuosity of the retinal arterioles was determined using Retinal Image multiScale Analysis (RISA; Gelman et al., 2005).
In the youngest ROP rats, the TVL was dense, while in RAR rats, it was relatively sparse. By 30 days, the TVL in RAR rats had almost fully regressed, while in ROP rats it was still pronounced. By the final test age, the TVL had completely regressed in both ROP and RAR rats. In parallel, the tortuous retinal arterioles in ROP rats resolved with increasing age. ERG components indicating postreceptoral dysfunction, the b-wave and oscillatory potentials (OPs), were attenuated in ROP rats.
These findings underscore the retinal vascular abnormalities and, for the first time, show abnormal anterior segment vasculature in the rat model of ROP. There is delayed regression of the TVL in the rat model of ROP. This demonstrates that ROP is a disease of the whole eye.
PMCID: PMC3775643  PMID: 23748796
6.  Towards a Quantitative OCT Image Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e100080.
Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is an invaluable diagnostic tool for the detection and follow-up of retinal pathology in patients and experimental disease models. However, as morphological structures and layering in health as well as their alterations in disease are complex, segmentation procedures have not yet reached a satisfactory level of performance. Therefore, raw images and qualitative data are commonly used in clinical and scientific reports. Here, we assess the value of OCT reflectivity profiles as a basis for a quantitative characterization of the retinal status in a cross-species comparative study.
Spectral-Domain Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT), confocal Scanning-La­ser Ophthalmoscopy (SLO), and Fluorescein Angiography (FA) were performed in mice (Mus musculus), gerbils (Gerbillus perpadillus), and cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) using the Heidelberg Engineering Spectralis system, and additional SLOs and FAs were obtained with the HRA I (same manufacturer). Reflectivity profiles were extracted from 8-bit greyscale OCT images using the ImageJ software package (
Reflectivity profiles obtained from OCT scans of all three animal species correlated well with ex vivo histomorphometric data. Each of the retinal layers showed a typical pattern that varied in relative size and degree of reflectivity across species. In general, plexiform layers showed a higher level of reflectivity than nuclear layers. A comparison of reflectivity profiles from specialized retinal regions (e.g. visual streak in gerbils, fovea in non-human primates) with respective regions of human retina revealed multiple similarities. In a model of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), the value of reflectivity profiles for the follow-up of therapeutic interventions was demonstrated.
OCT reflectivity profiles provide a detailed, quantitative description of retinal layers and structures including specialized retinal regions. Our results highlight the potential of this approach in the long-term follow-up of therapeutic strategies.
PMCID: PMC4057353  PMID: 24927180
8.  Targeted Ablation of Crb1 and Crb2 in Retinal Progenitor Cells Mimics Leber Congenital Amaurosis 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(12):e1003976.
Development in the central nervous system is highly dependent on the regulation of the switch from progenitor cell proliferation to differentiation, but the molecular and cellular events controlling this process remain poorly understood. Here, we report that ablation of Crb1 and Crb2 genes results in severe impairment of retinal function, abnormal lamination and thickening of the retina mimicking human Leber congenital amaurosis due to loss of CRB1 function. We show that the levels of CRB1 and CRB2 proteins are crucial for mouse retinal development, as they restrain the proliferation of retinal progenitor cells. The lack of these apical proteins results in altered cell cycle progression and increased number of mitotic cells leading to an increased number of late-born cell types such as rod photoreceptors, bipolar and Müller glia cells in postmitotic retinas. Loss of CRB1 and CRB2 in the retina results in dysregulation of target genes for the Notch1 and YAP/Hippo signaling pathways and increased levels of P120-catenin. Loss of CRB1 and CRB2 result in altered progenitor cell cycle distribution with a decrease in number of late progenitors in G1 and an increase in S and G2/M phase. These findings suggest that CRB1 and CRB2 suppress late progenitor pool expansion by regulating multiple proliferative signaling pathways.
Author Summary
Mutations in the human CRB1 gene lead to one of the most severe forms of retinal dystrophies, called Leber congenital amaurosis. Here, we report that ablation of CRB1 and the second family member CRB2 are crucial for proper retinal development. These mice display severe impairment of retinal function, abnormal lamination and thickening of the retina mimicking human Leber congenital amaurosis due to loss of CRB1 function. The thickening of the retina is due to increased cell proliferation during late retinal development leading to an increased number of late-born retinal cells. We describe in these CRB1 Leber congenital amaurosis mouse models the molecular and cellular events involving CRB proteins during the development of the retina.
PMCID: PMC3854796  PMID: 24339791
9.  Systematic Identification and Characterization of Novel Human Skin-Associated Genes Encoding Membrane and Secreted Proteins 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e63949.
Through bioinformatics analyses of a human gene expression database representing 105 different tissues and cell types, we identified 687 skin-associated genes that are selectively and highly expressed in human skin. Over 50 of these represent uncharacterized genes not previously associated with skin and include a subset that encode novel secreted and plasma membrane proteins. The high levels of skin-associated expression for eight of these novel therapeutic target genes were confirmed by semi-quantitative real time PCR, western blot and immunohistochemical analyses of normal skin and skin-derived cell lines. Four of these are expressed specifically by epidermal keratinocytes; two that encode G-protein-coupled receptors (GPR87 and GPR115), and two that encode secreted proteins (WFDC5 and SERPINB7). Further analyses using cytokine-activated and terminally differentiated human primary keratinocytes or a panel of common inflammatory, autoimmune or malignant skin diseases revealed distinct patterns of regulation as well as disease associations that point to important roles in cutaneous homeostasis and disease. Some of these novel uncharacterized skin genes may represent potential biomarkers or drug targets for the development of future diagnostics or therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC3688712  PMID: 23840300
10.  Oppositional Regulation of Noxa by JNK1 and JNK2 during Apoptosis Induced by Proteasomal Inhibitors 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e61438.
Proteasome inhibitors (PIs) potently induce apoptosis in a variety of tumor cells, but the underlying mechanisms are not fully elucidated. Comparing PI-induced apoptosis susceptibilities of various mouse embryonic fibroblast (MEF) lines differing in their c-jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) 1 and 2 status, we show that several hallmarks of apoptosis were most rapidly detectable in JNK2−/− cells, whereas they appeared only delayed and severely reduced in their intensities in cells expressing JNK2. Consistent with our finding that PI-induced apoptosis requires de novo protein synthesis, the proteasomal inhibitor MG-132 induced expression of the BH3-only protein Noxa at the transcriptional level in a JNK1-dependent, but JNK2-opposing manner. As the knockdown of Noxa blocked only the rapid PI-induced apoptosis of JNK2−/− cells, but not the delayed death occurring in JNK1−/− and JNK1+/+ cells, our data uncover a novel PI-induced apoptosis pathway that is regulated by the JNK1/2-dependent expression of Noxa. Furthermore, several transcription factors known to modulate Noxa expression including ATF3, ATF4, c-Jun, c-Myc, HIF1α, and p53 were found upregulated following MG-132 exposure. From those, only knockdown of c-Myc rescued JNK2−/− cells from PI-induced apoptosis, however, without affecting expression of Noxa. Together, our data not only show that a rapid execution of PI-induced apoptosis requires JNK1 for upregulation of Noxa via an as yet unknown transcription factor, but also that JNK2 controls this event in an oppositional manner.
PMCID: PMC3623862  PMID: 23593480
11.  Endothelial SRF/MRTF ablation causes vascular disease phenotypes in murine retinae 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2013;123(5):2193-2206.
Retinal vessel homeostasis ensures normal ocular functions. Consequently, retinal hypovascularization and neovascularization, causing a lack and an excess of vessels, respectively, are hallmarks of human retinal pathology. We provide evidence that EC-specific genetic ablation of either the transcription factor SRF or its cofactors MRTF-A and MRTF-B, but not the SRF cofactors ELK1 or ELK4, cause retinal hypovascularization in the postnatal mouse eye. Inducible, EC-specific deficiency of SRF or MRTF-A/MRTF-B during postnatal angiogenesis impaired endothelial tip cell filopodia protrusion, resulting in incomplete formation of the retinal primary vascular plexus, absence of the deep plexi, and persistence of hyaloid vessels. All of these features are typical of human hypovascularization-related vitreoretinopathies, such as familial exudative vitreoretinopathies including Norrie disease. In contrast, conditional EC deletion of Srf in adult murine vessels elicited intraretinal neovascularization that was reminiscent of the age-related human pathologies retinal angiomatous proliferation and macular telangiectasia. These results indicate that angiogenic homeostasis is ensured by differential stage-specific functions of SRF target gene products in the developing versus the mature retinal vasculature and suggest that the actin-directed MRTF-SRF signaling axis could serve as a therapeutic target in the treatment of human vascular retinal diseases.
PMCID: PMC3635718  PMID: 23563308
12.  Successful Subretinal Delivery and Monitoring of MicroBeads in Mice 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e55173.
To monitor viability of implanted genetically engineered and microencapsulated human stem cells (MicroBeads) in the mouse eye, and to study the impact of the beads and/or xenogenic cells on retinal integrity.
Methodology/Principal Findings
MicroBeads were implanted into the subretinal space of SV126 wild type mice using an ab externo approach. Viability of microencapsulated cells was monitored by noninvasive retinal imaging (Spectralis™ HRA+OCT). Retinal integrity was also assessed with retinal imaging and upon the end of the study by light and electron microscopy. The implanted GFP-marked cells encapsulated in subretinal MicroBeads remained viable over a period of up to 4 months. Retinal integrity and viability appeared unaltered apart from the focal damage due to the surgical implantation, GFAP upregulation, and opsin mistargeting in the immediate surrounding tissue.
The accessibility for routine surgery and its immune privileged state make the eye an ideal target for release system implants for therapeutic substances, including neurotrophic and anti-angiogenic compounds or protein based biosimilars. Microencapsulated human stem cells (MicroBeads) promise to overcome limitations inherent with single factor release systems, as they are able to produce physiologic combinations of bioactive compounds.
PMCID: PMC3557268  PMID: 23383096
13.  Carbon nanoparticles induce ceramide- and lipid raft-dependent signalling in lung epithelial cells: a target for a preventive strategy against environmentally-induced lung inflammation 
Particulate air pollution in lung epithelial cells induces pathogenic endpoints like proliferation, apoptosis, and pro-inflammatory reactions. The activation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is a key event responsible for signalling events involving mitogen activated protein kinases specific for these endpoints. The molecular events leading to receptor activation however are not well understood. These events are relevant for the toxicological evaluation of inhalable particles as well as for potential preventive strategies in situations when particulate air pollution cannot be avoided. The current study therefore had the objective to elucidate membrane-coupled events leading to EGFR activation and the subsequent signalling cascade in lung epithelial cells. Furthermore, we aimed to identify the molecular target of ectoine, a biophysical active substance which we described to prevent carbon nanoparticle-induced lung inflammation.
Membrane signalling events were investigated in isolated lipid rafts from lung epithelial cells with regard to lipid and protein content of the signalling platforms. Using positive and negative intervention approaches, lipid raft changes, subsequent signalling events, and lung inflammation were investigated in vitro in lung epithelial cells (RLE-6TN) and in vivo in exposed animals.
Carbon nanoparticle treatment specifically led to an accumulation of ceramides in lipid rafts. Detailed analyses demonstrated a causal link of ceramides and subsequent EGFR activation coupled with a loss of the receptor in the lipid raft fractions. In vitro and in vivo investigations demonstrate the relevance of these events for carbon nanoparticle-induced lung inflammation. Moreover, the compatible solute ectoine was able to prevent ceramide-mediated EGFR phosphorylation and subsequent signalling as well as lung inflammation in vivo.
The data identify a so far unknown event in pro-inflammatory signalling and contribute to the understanding of particle cell interaction and therefore to risk identification and risk assessment of inhalable xenobiotics. Moreover, as this cellular reaction can be prevented by the well tolerated substance ectoine, a molecular preventive strategy for susceptible persons against airway inflammation is proposed.
PMCID: PMC3546038  PMID: 23228165
Carbon black; Air pollution; Epidermal growth factor receptor; c-src; Alpha-tocopherol; Ectoine; compatible solutes
14.  Urea uptake enhances barrier function and antimicrobial defense in humans by regulating epidermal gene expression 
Urea is an endogenous metabolite, known to enhance stratum corneum hydration. Yet, topical urea anecdotally also improves permeability barrier function, and it appears to exhibit antimicrobial activity. Hence, we hypothesized that urea is not merely a passive metabolite, but a small-molecule regulator of epidermal structure and function. In 21 human volunteers, topical urea improved barrier function in parallel with enhanced antimicrobial peptide (LL-37 and β-defensin-2) expression. Urea both stimulates expression of, and is transported into keratinocytes by two urea transporters, UT-A1 and UT-A2, and by aquaporin 3, 7 and 9. Inhibitors of these urea transporters block the downstream biological effects of urea, which include increased mRNA and protein levels for: (i) transglutaminase-1, involucrin, loricrin and filaggrin; (ii) epidermal lipid synthetic enzymes, and (iii) cathelicidin/LL-37 and β-defensin-2. Finally, we explored the potential clinical utility of urea, showing that topical urea applications normalized both barrier function and antimicrobial peptide expression in a murine model of atopic dermatitis (AD). Together, these results show that urea is a small-molecule regulator of epidermal permeability barrier function and antimicrobial peptide expression after transporter uptake, followed by gene regulatory activity in normal epidermis, with potential therapeutic applications in diseased skin.
PMCID: PMC3352965  PMID: 22418868
skin barrier; differentiation; antimicrobial peptides; urea; liposynthetic enzymes
15.  PGC-1α Determines Light Damage Susceptibility of the Murine Retina 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31272.
The peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ coactivator 1 (PGC-1) proteins are key regulators of cellular bioenergetics and are accordingly expressed in tissues with a high energetic demand. For example, PGC-1α and PGC-1β control organ function of brown adipose tissue, heart, brain, liver and skeletal muscle. Surprisingly, despite their prominent role in the control of mitochondrial biogenesis and oxidative metabolism, expression and function of the PGC-1 coactivators in the retina, an organ with one of the highest energy demands per tissue weight, are completely unknown. Moreover, the molecular mechanisms that coordinate energy production with repair processes in the damaged retina remain enigmatic. In the present study, we thus investigated the expression and function of the PGC-1 coactivators in the healthy and the damaged retina. We show that PGC-1α and PGC-1β are found at high levels in different structures of the mouse retina, most prominently in the photoreceptors. Furthermore, PGC-1α knockout mice suffer from a striking deterioration in retinal morphology and function upon detrimental light exposure. Gene expression studies revealed dysregulation of all major pathways involved in retinal damage and apoptosis, repair and renewal in the PGC-1α knockouts. The light-induced increase in apoptosis in vivo in the absence of PGC-1α was substantiated in vitro, where overexpression of PGC-1α evoked strong anti-apoptotic effects. Finally, we found that retinal levels of PGC-1 expression are reduced in different mouse models for retinitis pigmentosa. We demonstrate that PGC-1α is a central coordinator of energy production and, importantly, all of the major processes involved in retinal damage and subsequent repair. Together with the observed dysregulation of PGC-1α and PGC-1β in retinitis pigmentosa mouse models, these findings thus imply that PGC-1α might be an attractive target for therapeutic approaches aimed at retinal degeneration diseases.
PMCID: PMC3278422  PMID: 22348062
16.  Degeneration of the mouse retina upon dysregulated activity of serum response factor 
Molecular Vision  2011;17:1110-1127.
Our aim was to generate and phenotypically characterize a transgenic mouse line expressing a constitutively active variant of the transcription regulatory protein serum response factor (SRF), namely the SRF-VP16 protein. This new mouse strain has been registered under the designation Gt(ROSA)26Sortm1(SRF-VP16)Antu. We found phenotypic changes upon ectopic expression of SRF-VP16, especially in the mouse retina.
Using homologous recombination, we integrated an SRF-VP16 conditional (i.e., “flox-STOP” repressed) expression transgene into the Rosa26 locus of murine embryonic stem (ES) cells. These engineered ES cells were used to derive the Gt(ROSA)26Sortm1(SRF-VP16)Antu mouse strain. Semiquantitative real-time PCR was used to determine expression of the SRF-VP16 transgene at the mRNA level, both in young (P20 and P30) and adult (six months old) Gt(ROSA)26Sortm1(SRF-VP16)Antu mice. We also investigated the transcript levels of endogenous Srf and several SRF target genes. Retinal function was tested by electroretinography in both young and adult mice. Morphological abnormalities could be visualized by hematoxylin and eosin staining of sectioned, paraffin-embedded eye tissue samples. Scanning-laser ophthalmoscopy was used to investigate retinal vascularization and degeneration in adult mice.
We show that the SRF-VP16 mRNA is expressed to a low but significant degree in the retinas of young and adult animals of the Gt(ROSA)26Sortm1(SRF-VP16)Antu mouse strain, even in the absence of Cre-mediated deletion of the “flox-STOP” cassette. In the retinas of these transgenic mice, endogenous Srf displays elevated transcript levels. Ectopic retinal expression of constitutively active SRF-VP16 is correlated with the malfunction of retinal neurons in both heterozygous and homozygous animals of both age groups (P20 and adult). Additionally, mislamination of retinal cell layers and cellular rosette formations are found in retinas of both heterozygous and homozygous animals of young age. In homozygous individuals, however, the cellular rosettes are more widespread over the fundus. At adult age, retinas both from animals that are heterozygous and homozygous for the floxSTOP/SRF-VP16 transgene display severe degeneration, mainly of the photoreceptor cell layer. Wild-type age-matched littermates, however, do not show any degeneration. The severity of the observed effects correlates with dosage of the transgene.
This is the first report suggesting an influence of the transcription factor SRF on the development and function of the murine retina. Ectopic SRF-VP16 mRNA expression in the retinas of young animals is correlated with photoreceptor layer mislamination and impaired retinal function. At an advanced age of six months, degenerative processes are detected in SRF-VP16 transgenic retinas accompanied by impaired retinal function. The Gt(ROSA)26Sortm1(SRF-VP16)Antu mouse strain represents a genetic SRF gain-of-function mouse model that will complement the current SRF loss-of-function models. It promises to provide new insight into the hitherto poorly defined role of SRF in retinal development and function, including potential contributions to ophthalmologic disorders. Furthermore, using conditional Cre-mediated activation of SRF-VP16, the described mouse strain will enable assessment of the impact of dysregulated SRF activity on the physiologic functions of various other organs.
PMCID: PMC3087454  PMID: 21552476
17.  Spectral Domain Optical Coherence Tomography in Mouse Models of Retinal Degeneration 
Spectral domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) allows cross-sectional visualization of retinal structures in vivo. Here, we report the efficacy of a commercially available SD-OCT device to study mouse models of retinal degeneration.
C57BL/6 and BALB/c wild type mice and three different mouse models of hereditary retinal degeneration (Rho-/-, rd1, RPE65-/-) were investigated using confocal scanning laser ophthalmoscopy (cSLO) for en face visualization and SD-OCT for cross-sectional imaging of retinal structures. Histology was performed to correlate structural findings in SD-OCT with light microscopic data.
In C57BL/6 and BALB/c mice, cSLO and SD-OCT imaging provided structural details of frequently used control animals (central retinal thickness, CRTC57BL/6 = 237±2μm and CRTBALB/c = 211±10μm). RPE65-/- mice at 11 months of age showed a significant reduction of retinal thickness (CRTRPE65 = 193±2μm) with thinning of the outer nuclear layer. Rho-/- mice at P28 demonstrated degenerative changes mainly in the outer retinal layers (CRTRho = 193±2μm). Examining rd1 animals before and after the onset of retinal degeneration allowed to monitor disease progression (CRTrd1 P11 = 246±4μm, CRTrd1 P28 = 143±4μm). Correlation of CRT assessed by histology and SD-OCT was high (r2 = 0.897).
We demonstrated cross sectional visualization of retinal structures in wild type mice and mouse models for retinal degeneration in vivo using a commercially available SD-OCT device. This method will help to reduce numbers of animals needed per study by allowing longitudinal study designs and facilitate characterization of disease dynamics and evaluation of putative therapeutic effects following experimental interventions.
PMCID: PMC2800101  PMID: 19661229
optical coherence tomography; retinal degeneration; imaging; mouse models
18.  Novel Rodent Models for Macular Research 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(10):e13403.
Many disabling human retinal disorders involve the central retina, particularly the macula. However, the commonly used rodent models in research, mouse and rat, do not possess a macula. The purpose of this study was to identify small laboratory rodents with a significant central region as potential new models for macular research.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Gerbillus perpallidus, Meriones unguiculatus and Phodopus campbelli, laboratory rodents less commonly used in retinal research, were subjected to confocal scanning laser ophthalmoscopy (cSLO), fluorescein and indocyanine green angiography, and spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) using standard equipment (Heidelberg Engineering HRA1 and Spectralis™) adapted to small rodent eyes. The existence of a visual streak-like pattern was assessed on the basis of vascular topography, retinal thickness, and the topography of retinal ganglion cells and cone photoreceptors. All three species examined showed evidence of a significant horizontal streak-like specialization. cSLO angiography and retinal wholemounts revealed that superficial retinal blood vessels typically ramify and narrow into a sparse capillary net at the border of the respective area located dorsal to the optic nerve. Similar to the macular region, there was an absence of larger blood vessels in the streak region. Furthermore, the thickness of the photoreceptor layer and the population density of neurons in the ganglion cell layer were markedly increased in the visual streak region.
The retinal specializations of Gerbillus perpallidus, Meriones unguiculatus and Phodopus campbelli resemble features of the primate macula. Hence, the rodents reported here may serve to study aspects of macular development and diseases like age-related macular degeneration and diabetic macular edema, and the preclinical assessment of therapeutic strategies.
PMCID: PMC2955520  PMID: 20976212
19.  Retinal Degenerative and Hypoxic Ischemic Disease 
A broad spectrum of retinal diseases affects both the retinal vasculature and the neural retina, including photoreceptor and postreceptor layers. The accepted clinical hallmarks of acute retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) are dilation and tortuosity of the retinal vasculature. Additionally, significant early and persistent effects on photoreceptor and postreceptor neural structures and function are demonstrated in ROP. In this paper, we focus on the results of longitudinal studies of electroretinographic (ERG) and vascular features in rats with induced retinopathies that model the gamut of human ROP, mild to severe. Two potential targets for pharmaceutical interventions emerge from the observations. The first target is immature photoreceptors because the status of the photoreceptors at an early age predicts later vascular outcome; this approach is appealing as it holds promise to prevent ROP. The second target is the interplay of the neural and vascular retinal networks, which develop cooperatively. Beneficial pharmaceutical interventions may be measured in improved visual outcome as well as lessening of the vascular abnormalities.
PMCID: PMC2629502  PMID: 18483822
20.  Noninvasive, In Vivo Assessment of Mouse Retinal Structure Using Optical Coherence Tomography 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(10):e7507.
Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a novel method of retinal in vivo imaging. In this study, we assessed the potential of OCT to yield histology-analogue sections in mouse models of retinal degeneration.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We achieved to adapt a commercial 3rd generation OCT system to obtain and quantify high-resolution morphological sections of the mouse retina which so far required in vitro histology. OCT and histology were compared in models with developmental defects, light damage, and inherited retinal degenerations. In conditional knockout mice deficient in retinal retinoblastoma protein Rb, the gradient of Cre expression from center to periphery, leading to a gradual reduction of retinal thickness, was clearly visible and well topographically quantifiable. In Nrl knockout mice, the layer involvement in the formation of rosette-like structures was similarly clear as in histology. OCT examination of focal light damage, well demarcated by the autofluorescence pattern, revealed a practically complete loss of photoreceptors with preservation of inner retinal layers, but also more subtle changes like edema formation. In Crb1 knockout mice (a model for Leber's congenital amaurosis), retinal vessels slipping through the outer nuclear layer towards the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) due to the lack of adhesion in the subapical region of the photoreceptor inner segments could be well identified.
We found that with the OCT we were able to detect and analyze a wide range of mouse retinal pathology, and the results compared well to histological sections. In addition, the technique allows to follow individual animals over time, thereby reducing the numbers of study animals needed, and to assess dynamic processes like edema formation. The results clearly indicate that OCT has the potential to revolutionize the future design of respective short- and long-term studies, as well as the preclinical assessment of therapeutic strategies.
PMCID: PMC2759518  PMID: 19838301
21.  A reproducible and quantifiable model of choroidal neovascularization induced by VEGF A165 after subretinal adenoviral gene transfer in the rabbit 
Molecular Vision  2008;14:1358-1372.
To determine the effects of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A165 delivered using a high capacity adenoviral vector (HC Ad.VEGF-A) on vascular growth and pathological changes in the rabbit eye. To combine different detection methods of VEGF-A165 overexpression-induced neovascularization in the rabbit.
HC Ad.VEGF-A165 was constructed and injected at 5x106 infectious units (iu) into the subretinal space of rabbit eyes. Two and four weeks postinjection, the development of neovascularization and the expression of HC Ad-transduced VEGF-A165 protein were followed up in vivo by scanning laser ophthalmoscopy, fluorescein and indocyanine green angiographies and ex vivo by electron microscopy and immunohistochemistry
We observed a choroidal neovascularization (CNV) with leakage in 83% of the rabbit eyes. Our findings present clear indications that there is a significant effect on the endothelial cells of the choriocapillaris after subretinal transduction of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) with VEGF-A165 vector. The choroidal endothelial cells were activated, adherent junctions opened, and the fenestration was minimized, while the extracellular matrix localized between the RPE and the endothelium of the choriocapillaris was enlarged toward the lumen of the vessels, inducing a deep invagination of the endothelial cells into the vessel lumen. They also proliferated and formed pathological vessels in the subretinal space. Moreover,there was an increased expression of basic fibroblast growth factor and VEGF-A accompanied by macrophage stimulation, retinal edema, and photoreceptor loss.
This is the first model of VEGF-induced CNV in the rabbit in which the pathological events following overexpression of VEGF by RPE cells have been described in detail. Many of the features of our experimental CNV resemble those observed clinically in patients having wet age-related macular degeneration.
PMCID: PMC2493026  PMID: 18682809
22.  Evidence that Singlet Oxygen-induced Human T Helper Cell Apoptosis Is the Basic Mechanism of Ultraviolet-A Radiation Phototherapy  
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  1997;186(10):1763-1768.
Ultraviolet A (UVA) irradiation is effectively used to treat patients with atopic dermatitis and other T cell mediated, inflammatory skin diseases. In the present study, successful phototherapy of atopic dermatitis was found to result from UVA radiation-induced apoptosis in skin-infiltrating T helper cells, leading to T cell depletion from eczematous skin. In vitro, UVA radiation-induced human T helper cell apoptosis was mediated through the FAS/FAS-ligand system, which was activated in irradiated T cells as a consequence of singlet oxygen generation. These studies demonstrate that singlet oxygen is a potent trigger for the induction of human T cell apoptosis. They also identify singlet oxygen generation as a fundamental mechanism of action operative in phototherapy.
PMCID: PMC2199141  PMID: 9362536

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