Retinal capillary pericyte is a cell type selectively lost in early diabetic retinopathy. The physiological function of pericytes is not yet clearly identified, although it probably has contractile properties. We determined the specific binding of endothelin 1, a 21–amino acid peptide with potent vasoconstrictive action, and the stimulation of diacylglycerol/protein kinase C (DAG/PKC) pathway in cultured retinal capillary pericytes by endothelin. A single specific binding site for 125I-labeled endothelin was identified, with an apparent Kd of 1.3 nM and a maximal binding capacity of ∼1–2 × 105 sites/cell. Endothelin (100 nM) increased total cellular DAG content by 15% at 5 min and 24% at 10 min. When pericytes were labeled isotopically with [3H]glycerol, endothelin stimulated [3H]DAG formation by 100% at 10 min and 88% at 30 min. After 10 min of endothelin treatment, PKC activities were increased by 60 and 100% in the membranous and cytosolic pools, respectively. We conclude that bovine retinal capillary pericytes possess numerous high-affinity specific binding sites for endothelin that mediate the action of endothelin by the stimulation of the DAG/PKC pathway in pericytes. These findings suggest that endothelin is a regulator of the contractile properties of pericytes, which may be adversely affected in diabetic retinopathy.

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