Mechanisms responsible for the pathogenesis of diabetic retinal disease remain incompletely understood, but they likely involve multiple cellular targets, including photoreceptors. Evidence suggests that dysregulated de novo lipogenesis in photoreceptors is a critical early target of diabetes. Following on this observation, the present study aimed to determine whether two interventions shown to improve diabetic retinopathy in mice—pharmacologic visual cycle inhibition and prolonged dark adaptation—reduce photoreceptor anabolic lipid metabolism. Elevated retinal lipid biosynthetic signaling was observed in two mouse models of diabetes, with both models showing reduced retinal AMP-activated kinase (AMPK) signaling, elevated acetyl CoA carboxylase (ACC) signaling, and increased activity of fatty acid synthase, which promotes lipotoxicity in photoreceptors. Although retinal AMPK-ACC axis signaling was dependent on systemic glucose fluctuations in healthy animals, mice with diabetes lacked such regulation. Visual cycle inhibition and prolonged dark adaptation reversed abnormal retinal AMPK-ACC signaling in mice with diabetes. Although visual cycle inhibition reduced the severity of diabetic retinopathy in control mice, as assessed by retinal capillary atrophy, this intervention was ineffective in fatty acid synthase gain-of-function mice. These results suggest that early diabetic retinopathy is characterized by glucose-driven elevations in retinal lipid biosynthetic activity, and that two interventions known to increase photoreceptor glucose demands alleviate disease by reversing these signals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2144-2155
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Pathology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2023


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