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Tounès Saïdi, Sihem Mbarek, Samy Omri, Francine Behar-Cohen, Rafika Ben Chaouacha-Chekir, David Hicks; The Sand Rat, Psammomys obesus, Develops Type 2 Diabetic Retinopathy Similar to Humans. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2011;52(12):8993-9004. doi: 10.1167/iovs.11-8423.
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Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a leading cause of blindness, yet pertinent animal models are uncommon. The sand rat (Psammomys obesus), exhibiting diet-induced metabolic syndrome, might constitute a relevant model.
Adult P. obesus (n = 39) were maintained in captivity for 4 to 7 months and fed either vegetation-based diets (n = 13) or standard rat chow (n = 26). Although plant-fed animals exhibited uniform body weight and blood glucose levels over time, nearly 60% of rat chow–raised animals developed diabetes-like symptoms (test group). Animals were killed, and their eyes and vitreous were processed for immunochemistry.
Compared with plant-fed animals, diabetic animals showed many abnormal vascular features, including vasodilation, tortuosity, and pericyte loss within the blood vessels, hyperproteinemia and elevated ratios of proangiogenic and antiangiogenic growth factors in the vitreous, and blood-retinal barrier breakdown. Furthermore, there were statistically significant decreases in retinal cell layer thicknesses and densities, accompanied by profound alterations in glia (downregulation of glutamine synthetase, glutamate-aspartate transporter, upregulation of glial fibrillar acidic protein) and many neurons (reduced expression of protein kinase Cα and Cξ in bipolar cells, axonal degeneration in ganglion cells). Cone photoreceptors were particularly affected, with reduced expression of short- and mid-/long-wavelength opsins. Hypercaloric diet nondiabetic animals showed intermediate values.
Simple dietary modulation of P. obesus induces a rapid and severe phenotype closely resembling human type 2 DR. This species presents a valuable novel experimental model for probing the neural (especially cone photoreceptor) pathogenic modifications that are difficult to study in humans and for screening therapeutic strategies.
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