Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition and Senescence in the Retinal Pigment Epithelium of NFE2L2/PGC-1α Double Knock-Out Mice

Janusz Blasiak, Ali Koskela, Elzbieta Pawlowska, Mikko Liukkonen, Johanna Ruuth, Elisa Toropainen, Juha M T Hyttinen, Johanna Viiri, John E Eriksson, Heping Xu, Mei Chen, Szabolcs Felszeghy, Kai Kaarniranta

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Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most prevalent form of irreversible blindness worldwide in the elderly population. In our previous studies, we found that deficiencies in the nuclear factor, erythroid 2 like 2 (NFE2L2) and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator 1-α (PGC-1α) genes caused AMD-like pathological phenotypes in mice. In the present work, we show hijacked epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) due to the common loss of PGC-1α and NFE2L2 (double knock-out, dKO) genes in aged animals. The implanted area was assessed by histology, immunohistochemistry and transmission electron microscopy. Confocal microscopy revealed altered regions in the filamentous actin ring. This contrasted with hexagonal RPE morphology in wild-type mice. The ultrastructural RPE features here illustrated loss of apical microvilli, alteration of cell-cell contact, loss of basal in-folding with deposits on Bruch's membrane, and excessive lipofuscin deposition in dKO samples. We also found the expression of epithelial-mesenchymal transition transcription factors, such as Snail, Slug, collagen 1, vimentin and OB-cadherin, to be significantly different in dKO RPEs. An increased immunoreactivity of senescence markers p16, DEC1 and HMGB1 was also noted. These findings suggest that EMT and senescence pathways may intersect in the retinas of dKO mice. Both processes can be activated by damage to the RPE, which may be caused by increased oxidative stress resulting from the absence of NFE2L2 and PGC-1α genes, important for antioxidant defense. This dKO model may provide useful tools for studying AMD pathogenesis and evaluating novel therapies for this disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1684
Number of pages17
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 08 Feb 2021


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