microRNA (miRNA) play critical roles in the pathological processes of diabetic retinopathy, including inflammatory responses, insulin signaling, and angiogenesis.
In addition to their regulatory functions on gene expression, miRNA is considered as a potential therapeutic target, as well as a diagnostic marker for many diseases. Our understanding on the pathological mechanisms underlying diabetic retinopathy is still incomplete and additional investigations are required to develop novel therapeutic strategies. The aim of this study was to investigate our hypothesis that miR-146a plays a role in suppressing pro-inflammatory pathways, involving STAT3 and VEGF, through regulating IL-6 signaling to reduce apoptosis of human retinal endothelial cells (REC) in high glucose conditions. Human REC were cultured in normal (5 mM) glucose or high glucose medium (25 mM) for 3 days. We performed transfections on REC with miRNA mimics (hsa-miR-146a-5p). Overexpression of miR-146a reduced IL-6 levels, STAT3 phosphorylation, and VEGF levels in REC cultured in high glucose. Cellular apoptosis was decreased in REC overexpressing miR-146a, as demonstrated by the inhibition of DNA fragmentation. More importantly, we demonstrated that the regulatory role of miR-146a on STAT3/VEGF and apoptosis was mediated by IL-6 receptor signaling in REC.
Overall, we report that miR-146a suppressed IL-6 signaling, leading to reduced levels of STAT3 and VEGF in REC in high glucose conditions, leading to decreased apoptosis. The outcome suggests that miR-146a is a potential molecular target for inhibiting inflammation and apoptosis in the diabetic retina through the suppression of the IL-6-mediated STAT3/VEGF pathway.