Open Access Research article

Whole genome assessment of the retinal response to diabetes reveals a progressive neurovascular inflammatory response

Robert M Brucklacher1, Kruti M Patel1, Heather D VanGuilder2, Georgina V Bixler1, Alistair J Barber2, David A Antonetti3, Cheng-Mao Lin3, Kathryn F LaNoue3, Thomas W Gardner23, Sarah K Bronson3 and Willard M Freeman14*

Author Affiliations

1 Functional Genomics Core Facility, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA

2 Department of Ophthalmology, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA

3 Department of Cellular & Molecular Physiology, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA

4 Department of Pharmacology, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA

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BMC Medical Genomics 2008, 1:26  doi:10.1186/1755-8794-1-26

Published: 13 June 2008



Despite advances in the understanding of diabetic retinopathy, the nature and time course of molecular changes in the retina with diabetes are incompletely described. This study characterized the functional and molecular phenotype of the retina with increasing durations of diabetes.


Using the streptozotocin-induced rat model of diabetes, levels of retinal permeability, caspase activity, and gene expression were examined after 1 and 3 months of diabetes. Gene expression changes were identified by whole genome microarray and confirmed by qPCR in the same set of animals as used in the microarray analyses and subsequently validated in independent sets of animals. Increased levels of vascular permeability and caspase-3 activity were observed at 3 months of diabetes, but not 1 month. Significantly more and larger magnitude gene expression changes were observed after 3 months than after 1 month of diabetes. Quantitative PCR validation of selected genes related to inflammation, microvasculature and neuronal function confirmed gene expression changes in multiple independent sets of animals.


These changes in permeability, apoptosis, and gene expression provide further evidence of progressive retinal malfunction with increasing duration of diabetes. The specific gene expression changes confirmed in multiple sets of animals indicate that pro-inflammatory, anti-vascular barrier, and neurodegenerative changes occur in tandem with functional increases in apoptosis and vascular permeability. These responses are shared with the clinically documented inflammatory response in diabetic retinopathy suggesting that this model may be used to test anti-inflammatory therapeutics.