Elevation of intracellular glucose within retinal vascular cells is believed to be an important causal factor in the development of diabetic retinopathy. The intracellular glucose concentration is regulated by both the rate of glucose metabolism and glucose transport. Because retinal hypoxia often precedes proliferative diabetic retinopathy, we have studied the regulation of the glucose transport system by hypoxia in cultured bovine retinal endothelial cells (BRECs). Because retinal ischemia is known to increase intracellular adenosine levels, which subsequently regulate hypoxia-inducible genes, such as vascular endothelial growth factor and erythropoietin, the role of adenosine and its receptor-mediated pathways has also been evaluated. Hypoxia (0.5% O2, 5% CO2, and 94.5% N2) stimulated GLUT1 mRNA expression in BRECs in a time-dependent manner with an 8.9 +/- 1.5-fold (P < 0.01) increase observed after 12 h. GLUT1 mRNA expression returned to baseline (1.4 +/- 0.3-fold of control) within 12 h after reinstitution of normoxia. N6-Cyclopentyl adenosine (adenosine A1 receptor agonist, Kd = 1 nmol/l) did not affect GLUT1 mRNA expression at concentrations up to 1 micromol/l, while 2-p-(2-carboxyethyl)-phenethyl-amino-5'-N-ethylcarboxamidoadenosine and 5'-(N-ethylcalboxamido)-adenosine (adenosine A2 receptor [A2R] agonists, Kd = 15 and 16 nmol/l, respectively) increased mRNA levels at concentrations as low as 10 nmol/l. Maximal stimulation was 2.3 +/- 0.2- and 2.1 +/- 0.2-fold, respectively (P < 0.01). The adenosine A2a receptor antagonist 8-(3-chlorostyryl)caffeine (CSC) (Kd = 100 nmol/l for A2R) inhibited hypoxia-stimulated GLUT1 mRNA expression by 40 +/- 8% at 100 nmo/l. Hypoxia upregulated GLUT1 protein expression by 3.0 +/- 0.3-fold after 12 h (P < 0.01), but this response was attenuated by CSC (P < 0.05). Hypoxia increased glucose transport activity by 2.1 +/- 0.3-fold (P < 0.001) after 12 h, a response inhibited 65% by CSC (P < 0.01). A protein kinase A (PKA) inhibitor (H89, 20 micromol/l) suppressed hypoxia-induced GLUT1 mRNA expression by 42 +/- 9% (P < 0.01). These data suggest that hypoxia in BRECs upregulates glucose transport activity through an increase of GLUT1 expression that is partially mediated by adenosine, A2R, and the cAMP-PKA pathway.

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