Both Autocrine Signaling and Paracrine Signaling of HB-EGF Enhance Ocular Neovascularization

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The incidence of blindness is increasing because of the increase in abnormal ocular neovascularization. Anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) therapies have led to good results, although they are not a cure for the blindness. The purpose of this study was to determine what role HB-EGF (heparin-binding epidermal growth factor–like growth factor) plays in ocular angiogenesis.

Approach and Results—

We examined the role played by HB-EGF in ocular neovascularization in 2 animal models of neovascularization: laser-induced choroidal neovascularization (CNV) and oxygen-induced retinopathy. We also studied human retinal microvascular endothelial cells in culture. Our results showed that the neovascularization was decreased in both the CNV and oxygen-induced retinopathy models in HB-EGF conditional knockout mice compared with that in wild-type mice. Moreover, the expressions of HB-EGF and VEGF were increased after laser-induced CNV and oxygen-induced retinopathy, and their expression sites were located around the neovascular areas. Exposure of human retinal microvascular endothelial cells to HB-EGF and VEGF increased their proliferation and migration, and CRM-197 (cross-reactive material-197), an HB-EGF inhibitor, decreased the HB-EGF–induced and VEGF-induced cell proliferation and migration. VEGF increased the expression of HB-EGF mRNA. VEGF-dependent activation of EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor)/ERK1/2 (extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2) signaling and cell proliferation of endothelial cells required stimulation of the ADAM17 (a disintegrin and metalloprotease) and ADAM12. CRM-197 decreased the grades of the fluorescein angiograms and size of the CNV areas in marmoset monkeys.


These findings suggest that HB-EGF plays an important role in the development of CNV. Therefore, further investigations of HB-EGF are needed as a potential therapeutic target in the treatment of exudative age-related macular degeneration.

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