Seminar: Photoreceptor Energy Metabolism Directs Neovascular Retinal Disease

Lois E. H. Smith, Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, Boston Children’s Hospital will be delivering a seminar on “Photoreceptor Energy Metabolism Directs Neovascular Retinal Disease” on Wednesday, March 14th at 12:00 Noon in the  Moran Eye Center auditorium.

Abstract: Neuronal energy demands are met by a tightly coupled and adaptive vascular network that supplies nutrients and oxygen. The retina is one of the highest energy-consuming organs, exceeding the metabolic rate of the brain; blood vessels grow and regress in reaction to changes in these high demands. Reduced nutrients and reduced oxygen availability instigate compensatory albeit misguided pathological neovascularization in proliferative retinopathies. Conversely, impaired retinal ganglion cell and photoreceptor survival are correlated with abrogated vascular development and as neurons degenerate, the retinal vasculature atrophies to match the reduced metabolic requirements. In mice, photoreceptor degeneration is associated with thinning of the choroid and inner retinal blood vessels. Conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, vaso-proliferative retinopathy of prematurity and neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have been characterized as diseases of the vasculature. However, it is becoming more evident that the metabolic needs of the neural retina profoundly influence blood vessel supply in development and in disease.

Retinal oxygen sources and the vaso-proliferative response to low oxygen levels have been well characterized. However, understanding the specific fuels used in the retina to generate ATP and supply building blocks for biosynthesis, as well as understanding the vaso-proliferative response to the lack of fuel are also key to neurovascular development. The metabolic and energy needs of the retina have been assumed to be met by glucose, as the retina is part of the CNS, and the brain relies almost exclusively on glucose. There are two primary pathways that cells can use to generate ATP from glucose, glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation. However, Cohen and Noell concluded in 1960 that a substantial portion of the energy produced through oxidation by the retina (around 65%) was not derived from glucose. We recently showed that the retina (photoreceptors) can also oxidize lipid through fatty acid β-oxidation to produce ATP, accounting for the energy gap noted by Cohen. Both glucose and lipid metabolism are forces that shape the vascular supply of the eye in development and in vaso-proliferative eye diseases.