Document Type


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Molecular Vision

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PURPOSE: To investigate the role of RPE cell-cell contact in vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) protein expression in cultures of primary human RPE (hRPE) cells and a human RPE cell line (ARPE-19). METHODS: Two in vitro methods, scratching and micropatterning, were used to control the physical dissociation of RPE cell-cell junctions. Scratching was performed by scoring monolayers of RPE cells with a cell scraper. Micropatterning was achieved by using a stencil patterning method. Extracellular VEGF expression was assessed by using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) kit. Immunocytochemistry (ICC) was performed to visualize the expression and localization of VEGF and intercellular proteins zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1), N-cadherin, β-catenin, and claudin-1 in RPE cultures. RESULTS: Higher expression of VEGF protein by cells on the edges of the scratched RPE layers was confirmed with ICC in short-term (1 day after confluency) and long-term (4 weeks after confluency) cultures. According to the ICC results, ZO-1, N-cadherin, β-catenin, and claudin-1 successfully localized to cell-cell junctions in long-term cultures of ARPE-19 and hRPE cells. However, unlike N-cadherin, β-catenin, and claudin-1, only ZO-1 localized junctionally in short-term cultures of both cell types. Moreover, removing cell-cell junctions by scratching resulted in the delocalization of ZO-1 from tight junctions to the cytoplasm. The loss of tight junction formation and the accumulation of ZO-1 in the cytoplasm correlated with increased VEGF expression. Micropatterning RPE cells on different sized circular patterns produced varying concentrations of cells with lost cell-cell junctions. When fewer cells formed intercellular junctions, increased extracellular VEGF secretion was observed from the ARPE-19 and hRPE cells. CONCLUSIONS: VEGF expression increases after physical disruption of RPE cell-cell connections. This increase in VEGF expression correlates with the loss of intercellular junctions and the localization of ZO-1 in the cytoplasm of RPE cells.

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