Therapeutic Delivery of Soluble Fractalkine Ameliorates Vascular Dysfunction in the Diabetic Retina




Rodriguez, Derek
Church, Kaira A.
Smith, Chelsea T.
Vanegas, Difernando
Cardona, Sandra M.
Muzzio, Isabel A.
Nash, Kevin R.
Cardona, Astrid E.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title




Diabetic retinopathy (DR)-associated vision loss is a devastating disease affecting the working-age population. Retinal pathology is due to leakage of serum components into retinal tissues, activation of resident phagocytes (microglia), and vascular and neuronal damage. While short-term interventions are available, they do not revert visual function or halt disease progression. The impact of microglial inflammatory responses on the neurovascular unit remains unknown. In this study, we characterized microglia–vascular interactions in an experimental model of DR. Early diabetes presents activated retinal microglia, vascular permeability, and vascular abnormalities coupled with vascular tortuosity and diminished astrocyte and endothelial cell-associated tight-junction (TJ) and gap-junction (GJ) proteins. Microglia exclusively bind to the neuronal-derived chemokine fractalkine (FKN) via the CX3CR1 receptor to ameliorate microglial activation. Using neuron-specific recombinant adeno-associated viruses (rAAVs), we therapeutically overexpressed soluble (sFKN) or membrane-bound (mFKN) FKN using intra-vitreal delivery at the onset of diabetes. This study highlights the neuroprotective role of rAAV-sFKN, reducing microglial activation, vascular tortuosity, fibrin(ogen) deposition, and astrogliosis and supporting the maintenance of the GJ connexin-43 (Cx43) and TJ zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1) molecules. The results also show that microglia–vascular interactions influence the vascular width upon administration of rAAV-sFKN and rAAV-mFKN. Administration of rAAV-sFKN improved visual function without affecting peripheral immune responses. These findings suggest that overexpression of rAAV-sFKN can mitigate vascular abnormalities by promoting glia–neural signaling. sFKN gene therapy is a promising translational approach to reverse vision loss driven by vascular dysfunction.



microglia, macrophages, fractalkine, vasculature, diabetic retinopathy, gene therapy


International Journal of Molecular Sciences 25 (3): 1727 (2024)


Molecular Microbiology and Immunology