Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is an increasingly frequent cause of blindness across populations; however, the events that initiate pathophysiology of DR remain elusive. Strong preclinical and clinical evidence suggests that abnormalities in retinal lipid metabolism caused by diabetes may account for the origin of this disease. A major arm of lipid metabolism, de novo biosynthesis, is driven by elevation in available glucose, a common thread binding all forms of vision loss in diabetes. Therefore, we hypothesized that aberrant retinal lipid biogenesis is an important promoter of early DR. In murine models, we observed elevations of diabetes-associated retinal de novo lipogenesis ~70% over control levels. This shift was primarily because of activation of fatty acid synthase (FAS), a rate-limiting enzyme in the biogenic pathway. Activation of FAS was driven by canonical glucose-mediated disinhibition of acetyl-CoA carboxylase, a major upstream regulatory enzyme. Mutant mice expressing gain-of-function FAS demonstrated increased vulnerability to DR, whereas those with FAS deletion in rod photoreceptors maintained preserved visual responses upon induction of diabetes. Excess retinal de novo lipogenesis -either because of diabetes or because of FAS gain of function -was associated with modestly increased levels of palmitate-containing phosphatidylcholine species in synaptic membranes, a finding with as yet uncertain significance. These findings implicate glucose-dependent increases in photoreceptor de novo lipogenesis in the early pathogenesis of DR, although the mechanism of deleterious action of this pathway remains unclear.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101104
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021


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