The retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE) plays a major role in normal and exaggerated retinal wound repair; the latter can result in epiretinal membrane formation and loss of vision. The RPE forms a stable monolayer of highly differentiated cells that proliferates only during wound repair. The mechanism underlying the change to the proliferating phenotype is unknown. When grown on a plastic substratum, cultured RPE cells mimic the proliferating phenotype in situ; they escape density arrest and proliferate in serum-free medium. In this study, we have demonstrated that a platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) autocrine loop is involved in RPE growth in serum-free medium, because: (1) RPE cells secrete PDGF into their media and express PDGF receptors; (2) the PDGF receptors on RPE cells are autophosphorylated in serum-free medium and suramin, an agent that displaces PDGF and other growth factors from their receptors, blocks the autophosphorylation; and (3) a neutralizing antibody to PDGF significantly decreases RPE growth in serum-free medium. When a linear scrape is made in an RPE monolayer, the cells migrate and proliferate to fill in the gap mimicking wound repair in situ. Cells along the edge of the scrape show increased expression of PDGF and PDGF-beta receptors, and increased staining for proliferating cell nuclear antigen. Immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization demonstrate expression of PDGF in ganglion cells and cells of retinal blood vessels. PDGF is not detected in the outer retina or RPE in untreated eyes, but is detected in RPE participating in wound repair, either adjacent to laser burns or underlying retinal detachment. PDGF and PDGF receptors are also expressed in RPE in epiretinal membranes removed during vitreous surgery. These data suggest that PDGF is an autocrine stimulator of growth in RPE that plays a role in retinal wound repair and epiretinal membrane formation.

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