The immunomodulatory capacity of adipose tissue-derived stromal cells (ASCs) is relevant for next-generation cell therapies that aim to reverse tissue dysfunction such as that caused by diabetes. Pericyte dropout from retinal capillaries underlies diabetic retinopathy and the subsequent aberrant angiogenesis.
We investigated the pericytic function of ASCs after intravitreal injection of ASCs in mice with retinopathy of prematurity as a model for clinical diabetic retinopathy. In addition, ASCs influence their environment by paracrine signalling. For this, we assessed the immunomodulatory capacity of conditioned medium from cultured ASCs (ASC-Cme) on high glucose (HG)-stimulated bovine retinal endothelial cells (BRECs).
ASCs augmented and stabilised retinal angiogenesis and co-localised with capillaries at a pericyte-specific position. This indicates that cultured ASCs exert juxtacrine signalling in retinal microvessels. ASC-Cme alleviated HG-induced oxidative stress and its subsequent upregulation of downstream targets in an NF-kappa B dependent fashion in cultured BRECs. Functionally, monocyte adhesion to the monolayers of activated BRECs was also decreased by treatment with ASC-Cme and correlated with a decline in expression of adhesion-related genes such as SELE, ICAM1 and VCAM1.
The ability of ASC-Cme to immunomodulate HG-challenged BRECs is related to the length of time for which ASCs were preconditioned in HG medium. Conditioned medium from ASCs that had been chronically exposed to HG medium was able to normalise the HG-challenged BRECs to normal glucose levels. In contrast, conditioned medium from ASCs that had been exposed to HG medium for a shorter time did not have this effect. Our results show that the manner of HG preconditioning of ASCs dictates their immunoregulatory properties and thus the potential outcome of treatment of diabetic retinopathy.