Chronic hyperglycemia may cause growth factor alterations that are likely to participate in tissue remodeling typical for diabetic late complications. However, few details of such events are known. The ocular vitreous fluid allows studies of growth factor levels in human eyes (after vitrectomy). The vitreous is highly inert and protected by the blood-retina barrier and thus probably reflects growth factor production by the normal retina. Vitreous from patients with proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) was compared with vitreous obtained from patients with nonproliferative eye disease and with vitreous from patients without diabetes but with marked neovascular proliferations due to ischemia. This design permits us to distinguish diabetes-related from non-diabetes-related alterations. Insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), IGF-II, IGF binding protein 2 (IGFBP-2), and IGFBP-3 were elevated 3-to 13-fold in nondiabetic retinal ischemia and 1.5- to 3-fold in PDR, indicating that the changes were not restricted to diabetes. These changes may partially be explained by leakage of serum into the vitreous, since IGFs and IGFBPs are 20- to 50-fold higher in serum than in vitreous, and vitreous protein content was 1.5-fold elevated in PDR subjects and 5-fold in ischemia patients compared with control subjects. TGF-β is a proposed antiangiogenic factor in the eye. TGF-β2 was the predominant subtype in vitreous, and its total amount was not altered in PDR patients. More importantly, the active fraction of TGF-β was decreased by 30 and 70% in PDR and nondiabetic retinal ischemia patients, respectively. Since plasmin may control TGF-β activation, the serum protein α2-antiplasmin was measured and found to be significantly elevated to 150 and 250% of control values in PDR and ischemia patients, respectively. Thus, influx of serum proteins due to microvascular disturbances and hypoxia is proposed as a possible cause for vitreous alterations of IGF-I and of active TGF-β. These changes seem to occur late in the sequence of events leading to PDR and are not specific for diabetes, but they were also observed in other diseases characterized by retinal hypoxia.

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