January 2017
Volume 58, Issue 1
Open Access
Retina  |   January 2017
Pituitary Adenylate Cyclase-Activating Peptide (PACAP), a Novel Secretagogue, Regulates Secreted Morphogens in Newborn Rat Retina
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Monika Lakk
    Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, School of Medicine, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
  • Viktoria Denes
    Department of Experimental Zoology and Neurobiology, University of Pécs, Pécs, Hungary
  • Karmen Kovacs
    Department of Experimental Zoology and Neurobiology, University of Pécs, Pécs, Hungary
  • Orsolya Hideg
    Department of Experimental Zoology and Neurobiology, University of Pécs, Pécs, Hungary
  • Bence F. Szabo
    Department of Experimental Zoology and Neurobiology, University of Pécs, Pécs, Hungary
  • Robert Gabriel
    Department of Experimental Zoology and Neurobiology, University of Pécs, Pécs, Hungary
    Neurobiology Research Group, János Szentágothai Research Center, Pécs, Hungary
  • Correspondence: Viktoria Denes, Department of Experimental Zoology and Neurobiology, University of Pécs, Ifjúság u. 6., H-7601 Pécs, Hungary; http://vdenes@gamma.ttk.pte.hu. 
Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science January 2017, Vol.58, 565-572. doi:10.1167/iovs.16-20566
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      Monika Lakk, Viktoria Denes, Karmen Kovacs, Orsolya Hideg, Bence F. Szabo, Robert Gabriel; Pituitary Adenylate Cyclase-Activating Peptide (PACAP), a Novel Secretagogue, Regulates Secreted Morphogens in Newborn Rat Retina. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2017;58(1):565-572. doi: 10.1167/iovs.16-20566.

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      © 2017 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.

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Abstract

Purpose: Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating peptide (PACAP)1-38 has been reported to be responsible for regulation of a disparate array of developmental processes in the central nervous system, and its antiapoptotic effect has been revealed in numerous models, pointing to its relevance in the etiology of neurodegenerative disorders. However, its function in retinal development remains unclear. Here, we aimed to point out that versatility can be achieved through interaction with other regulators, in which PACAP can act indirectly on the retinal microenvironment.

Methods: Wistar rats at age postnatal day 1 were injected intravitreally with PACAP or PAC1 receptor antagonist (PACAP6-38, M65) or VPAC1 antagonist (PG97-269) alone or in combination. Retinas were removed at 3, 6, 12, or 24 hours after injection. Changes in mRNA level were assessed using quantitative PCR, whereas changes in protein levels were measured by Western blot.

Results: Intravitreal injection of PACAP or PAC1 receptor antagonists or the VPAC1 antagonist showed that PACAP receptors regulate the expression of five key secreted molecules (i.e., Fgf1, Bmp4, Wnt1, Gdf3, and Ihh), wherease other crucial morphogens (i.e., Fgf2, Fgf4, Fgf8, Fgf9, Shh, and Bmp9) were not affected. Pharmacologic dissection revealed that both PAC1 and VPAC1 induced downstream signaling and could cause upregulation of Fgf1, Bmp4, and Wnt1, whereas expression of Gdf3 might be mediated through the VPAC2 receptor.

Conclusions: Our data are the first to shed light on PACAP as a secretagogue regulating a sustained production of morphogens, which in turn could enable PACAP to serve as a mitogen for retinal cells, to induce ganglion cell differentiation, and to contribute to RPE development.

Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP)1-38, the pleiotropic member of the vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP)/glucagon/secretin family,1 has had a long and prosperous history as a neuroprotective substance implicated in a large number of neurodegenerative models25 (e.g., ischemia, ethanol toxicity, NO toxicity, and oxidative stress). Furthermore, numerous reports have emerged in the retina literature demonstrating that PACAP exerted neuroprotective effects in diabetic retinopathy, glutamate-induced excitotoxicity, UVB-triggered apoptosis, and ischemia.69 In general, three G protein–coupled receptors can bind PACAP1-38 (i.e., PAC1-R, VPAC1, and VPAC2 receptors).10 More precisely, 16 PAC1 receptor isoforms have been identified in mammals due to alternative splicing of the exons coding the N-terminal region or the third intracellular loop or the fourth transmembrane domain. Of all PACAP receptors, each displays different affinity for PACAP1-38 and its counterpart, the highly homologous VIP, as well as different biases toward multiple signaling pathways permitting PACAP1-38 to function differentially by acting through multiple signaling pathways.11,12 
The antiapoptotic effect of PACAP1-38 and its underlying signaling pathways is the best understood process in PACAP research, eclipsing the database underlying the developmental roles of PACAP. However, a complex and diverse set of functions associated with PACAP1-38 has been described in the central nervous system, which encompasses neurogenesis, migration, neural differentiation, and synaptic development.1316 The early appearance in embryonic retina (i.e., PAC1 receptors and PACAP1-38 were detected as early as embryonic days 16 and 19, respectively)17 and sustained postnatal expression of its receptors18 indicate that PACAP1-38 very well belongs to a large group of soluble factors that orchestrates retinal development. Functional studies revealed an antimitogenic action of PACAP1-38 on progenitor and postmitotic cells of the newborn retina signaling through both PAC1 and VPAC receptors.17,19 In contrast, experiments performed on a retinal ganglion cell line (RGC-5) demonstrated a significant proliferative effect of PAC1 signaling.7 With respect of retinal cell differentiation, overexpression of PAC1 receptor hinders GABAergic amacrine cell production,19 whereas exogenous application of PACAP1-38 doubled the number of dopaminergic amacrine cells through the PAC1 receptor in chicken retina.20 Taken together, the data describing the action of PACAP in retinal development are rather unfocused and sometimes contradictory. Our experiments presented here were focused on understanding the diverse roles of PACAP1-38 by investigating the expression of a large set of genes potentially controlled by PACAP1-38 receptors in the developing rat retina. Accordingly, we carried out a comprehensive gene expression study followed by a focused investigation of the relationship between PACAP1-38 and certain secreted key regulators. 
Materials and Methods
Animals and Treatments
Animal housing and related procedures followed the ARVO Statement for the Use of Animals in Ophthalmic and Vision Research. Also, the care and use of laboratory animals were approved by the ethical committee of the University of Pécs (approval number BAI/35/51-58/2016). For all experiments, albino Wistar rats age of postnatal day 1 (P1) were used; day of birth was considered P0. Animals were anesthetized by inhalation of Forane prior to treatments. All treatments and euthanization were performed under anesthesia, and all efforts were made to minimize pain and suffering. Agonist or antagonists were injected intravitreally (i.v.) into one eye of the animals while the paired eye was injected with the same volume of 0.9% saline. Drugs and doses applied are shown in Table 1. To prevent rapid degradation of PACAP1-38 by dipeptidyl-peptidase IV, N-terminally acetylated PACAP1-38 was used.21 
Table 1
 
Names and Doses of Peptides Used for i.v. Injections
Table 1
 
Names and Doses of Peptides Used for i.v. Injections
Eyes were removed after 3, 6, 12, and 24 hours following treatments. Retinas were dissected in RNase-free cold PBS. Tissues were frozen on dry ice immediately and stored at −80°C until extraction. 
RNA Extraction, Reverse Transcription, Quantitative Real-Time PCR
For total RNA extraction and purification, QIAshredder and the RNeasy Plus Mini Kit (Qiagen, Hilden, Germany) were used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. Total RNA was determined by measuring optical density at 260 nm with BioPhotometer Plus (Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany). Purity was estimated by the 260/280-nm absorption ratio, which was consistently higher than 1.8. Two micrograms total RNA was converted into first-strand cDNA using oligo(dT) primer (Thermo Scientific, Waltham, MA, USA) and RevertAid H minus Reverse Transcriptase (Thermo Scientific). 
Rat Stem Cell RT2 Profiler PCR Arrays (Qiagen) were run with control and treated retina samples dissected at 3 and 6 hours following the manufacturer's instructions. Genes affected by PACAP1-38 along with other important secreted morphogens (Table 2) were selected to confirm their changes by quantitative real-time PCR (Q-PCR) analysis. 
Table 2
 
Primer Sequences Used in Q-PCR Analysis
Table 2
 
Primer Sequences Used in Q-PCR Analysis
Quantitative PCR was performed in a 25-μL reaction mixture containing 2.0–4 μL cDNA, forward primer, reverse primer, and SYBR Green PCR Master Mix (Thermo Scientific). Each sample was analyzed in triplicate. To assess gene expression differences, cDNAs of three control retinas were pooled and used as a reference. The 2−ΔΔCt method for relative quantification of gene expression was used to calculate mRNA expression levels. Results are shown as mean ± SD of fold changes that were adjusted according to the efficiency of each primer pair, as determined by the method of serial dilution. To normalize fluorescence signals, the constitutively expressed RPL13a and lactate dehydrogenase (LacD) were used as endogenous controls. Primer sequences are summarized in Table 2
Western Blot
For protein extraction, retinas were lysed in radioimmunoprecipitation assay (RIPA) buffer (10 mM phosphate buffer pH 7.2, 1% NP-40, 1% Na-deoxycholate, 0.1% SDS, 0.15 M NaCl, 2 mM EDTA, 2 μg/mL aprotonin, 0.5 μg/mL leupeptin, 2 mM sodium vanadate, 20 mM sodium fluoride, and 10 mM phenylmethylsulfonyl fluoride [PMSF]) using micropestles for 3 minutes on ice. Afterward, lysates were centrifuged at 13,000 rpm for 30 minutes at 4°C. Supernatants were saved, and protein concentration was determined using the BCA Protein Assay Kit (Thermo Scientific). Proteins of three control samples were pooled and used as a reference level. Sample preparation, gel electrophoresis, and blotting were performed as provided in the NuPAGE Instruction Manual (Thermo Scientific). Approximately 20–30 μg protein per sample was loaded and run in 4%–12% gradient polyacrylamide gels. Proteins were transferred onto a polyvinylidene difluoride (PVDF) membrane (Perkin Elmer, Waltham, MA, USA) under semidry conditions (BioRad, Budapest, Hungary). After blocking nonspecific binding sites with TBS-T (20 mM Tris-HCl, 150 mM NaCl, and 0.1% Tween-20) containing 5% nonfat dry milk and 1% BSA, membranes were probed overnight at 4°C with mouse anti-Bmp4 (1:1000; Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Dallas, TX, USA), goat anti-Fgf1 (1:2000; R&D Systems, Minneapolis, MN, USA), mouse anti-Wnt1 (1:2000; Cell Application, San Diego, CA, USA), and rabbit anti-Gdf3 (1:5000; Abcam, Cambridge, UK). Anti–β-tubulin (1:10,000; Sigma-Aldrich, Budapest, Hungary) and anti-GAPDH (1:10,000; Sigma-Aldrich) antibodies were used as loading controls. The binding of the primary antibodies was quantified using horseradish peroxidase–conjugated secondary antibody (Sigma-Aldrich) at a dilution of 1:10,000. For signal detection, we used WesternBright Chemiluminescence Detection reagent (Advansta, Menlo Park, CA, USA). The chemiluminescent signal was captured either on Kodak X-OMAT Blue Autoradiography Film (Sigma-Aldrich) or by the FluorChem Q Imaging system (ProteinSimple, Santa Clara, CA, USA). 
Statistical Analysis
First, we tested normality (Shapiro-Wilk test). Then, to identify groups whose means were significantly different from the mean of the reference groups, we used independent sample t-test or 1-way ANOVA. In experiments where pooled control samples were taken as references, an independent sample t-test was applied, whereas the statistical comparisons were performed by 1-way ANOVA analysis followed by a post hoc Tukey test to pit all groups against the PACAP1-38 treated group. A value of P ≤ 0.05 was considered statistically significant. 
Figure 1
 
Temporal effects of i.v. PACAP1-38 administration on expression of Fgf1, Bmp4, Gdf3, Wnt1, and Ihh at 3, 6, and 12 hours following injection. (A) Fgf1 transcription was not altered at 3 hours (0.72 ± 0.12) but significantly upregulated by PACAP at 6 (3.15 ± 1.17) and 12 (6.44 ± 2.27) hours after injecion. (B) Similarly, Bmp4 message level did not changed at 3 hours (0.75 ± 0.31) but was significantly elevated at 6 and 12 hours (4.68 ± 2.97 and 11.08 ± 3.15, respectively) following PACAP treatment. (C) Gdf3 expression, following a significant increase at 3 hours (4.64 ± 2.30), was hardly detectable after 6 hours (0.31 ± 0.27). Then, it displayed a marked but not significant elevation at 12 hours (18.31 ± 11.54). (D) In Wnt1 expression, a significant elevation was observed at 3 hours (31.81 ± 9.67), followed by a dramatical drop at 6 hours (5.84 ± 1.67) and then a marked elevation at 12 hours (18.78 ± 11.80) after injection. (E) Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating peptide appeared to be a repressing regulator of Ihh transcription at 3 (0.32 ± 0.17) and 6 hours (0.05 ± 0.03) after injection. Statistically significant differences were examined by independent samples t-test. Stars indicate P ≤ 0.05.
Figure 1
 
Temporal effects of i.v. PACAP1-38 administration on expression of Fgf1, Bmp4, Gdf3, Wnt1, and Ihh at 3, 6, and 12 hours following injection. (A) Fgf1 transcription was not altered at 3 hours (0.72 ± 0.12) but significantly upregulated by PACAP at 6 (3.15 ± 1.17) and 12 (6.44 ± 2.27) hours after injecion. (B) Similarly, Bmp4 message level did not changed at 3 hours (0.75 ± 0.31) but was significantly elevated at 6 and 12 hours (4.68 ± 2.97 and 11.08 ± 3.15, respectively) following PACAP treatment. (C) Gdf3 expression, following a significant increase at 3 hours (4.64 ± 2.30), was hardly detectable after 6 hours (0.31 ± 0.27). Then, it displayed a marked but not significant elevation at 12 hours (18.31 ± 11.54). (D) In Wnt1 expression, a significant elevation was observed at 3 hours (31.81 ± 9.67), followed by a dramatical drop at 6 hours (5.84 ± 1.67) and then a marked elevation at 12 hours (18.78 ± 11.80) after injection. (E) Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating peptide appeared to be a repressing regulator of Ihh transcription at 3 (0.32 ± 0.17) and 6 hours (0.05 ± 0.03) after injection. Statistically significant differences were examined by independent samples t-test. Stars indicate P ≤ 0.05.
Figure 2
 
Temporal changes in protein level of Fgf1, Bmp4, Gdf3, and Wnt1 are depicted at 6, 12, and 24 hours following i.v. PACAP1-38 injection. Fgf1 protein (17 kDa) expression was increased at 12 hours and prolonged through 24 hours after injection. Increased Bmp4 protein (22 kDa) level was captured at 6 hours after PACAP1-38 treatment. Mature Gdf3 protein (15 kDa) level displayed a permanent elevation from 6 to 24 hours after injection. The highest level of Wnt1 protein (41 kDa) was detected at 6 hours after injection, whereas a moderate increase of Wnt1 protein expression was observed at 12 and 24 hours after injection. Loading control bands of β-tubulin (50 kDa) or GAPDH (37 kDa) are shown in the upper rows.
Figure 2
 
Temporal changes in protein level of Fgf1, Bmp4, Gdf3, and Wnt1 are depicted at 6, 12, and 24 hours following i.v. PACAP1-38 injection. Fgf1 protein (17 kDa) expression was increased at 12 hours and prolonged through 24 hours after injection. Increased Bmp4 protein (22 kDa) level was captured at 6 hours after PACAP1-38 treatment. Mature Gdf3 protein (15 kDa) level displayed a permanent elevation from 6 to 24 hours after injection. The highest level of Wnt1 protein (41 kDa) was detected at 6 hours after injection, whereas a moderate increase of Wnt1 protein expression was observed at 12 and 24 hours after injection. Loading control bands of β-tubulin (50 kDa) or GAPDH (37 kDa) are shown in the upper rows.
Figure 3
 
Pharmacologic analysis of PACAP1-38 effects on Fgf1 (A), Bmp4 (B), Gdf3 (C), and Wnt1 (D) expression at 6 hours after injection. The pooled cDNA of control tissues taken as reference with a value of 1 is shown in the first place of each panel. Effects of 100 pmol PACAP1-38 on gene expression at 6 hours after injection are depicted by transversal striped bars. Effects of a single injection of 5 nmol PACAP6-38 (PAC1 antagonist) and the combined administration of PACAP6-38 and PACAP1-38 are shown by dotted bars. Effects of a single injection of 5 nmol M65 (PAC1 antagonist) and the combined administration of M65 and PACAP1-38 are shown by squared bars. Effects of a single injection of 10 nmol PG97-269 (VPAC1 antagonist) and the combined administration of PG97-269 and PACAP1-38 are shown by shaded bars. Effects of coadministration of 5 nmol M65 and 10 nmol PG97-269 and the combined administration of M65, PG97-269, and PACAP1-38 are shown by vertical striped bars. Statistically significant differences were examined by 1-way ANOVA followed by a post hoc Tukey test. Stars indicate P ≤ 0.05.
Figure 3
 
Pharmacologic analysis of PACAP1-38 effects on Fgf1 (A), Bmp4 (B), Gdf3 (C), and Wnt1 (D) expression at 6 hours after injection. The pooled cDNA of control tissues taken as reference with a value of 1 is shown in the first place of each panel. Effects of 100 pmol PACAP1-38 on gene expression at 6 hours after injection are depicted by transversal striped bars. Effects of a single injection of 5 nmol PACAP6-38 (PAC1 antagonist) and the combined administration of PACAP6-38 and PACAP1-38 are shown by dotted bars. Effects of a single injection of 5 nmol M65 (PAC1 antagonist) and the combined administration of M65 and PACAP1-38 are shown by squared bars. Effects of a single injection of 10 nmol PG97-269 (VPAC1 antagonist) and the combined administration of PG97-269 and PACAP1-38 are shown by shaded bars. Effects of coadministration of 5 nmol M65 and 10 nmol PG97-269 and the combined administration of M65, PG97-269, and PACAP1-38 are shown by vertical striped bars. Statistically significant differences were examined by 1-way ANOVA followed by a post hoc Tukey test. Stars indicate P ≤ 0.05.
Results
PACAP Governs Expression of Secreted Key Regulators
Gene Expression Study.
Our investigation began with a comprehensive gene expression study using Rat Stem Cell RT2 Profiler PCR Array. In the present study, the partial results of the array are presented only in Table 3. Up- or downregulated genes are bold. Of all the major secreted protein families crucially implicated in developmental processes, members of the TGF-β, fibroblast growth factor (Fgf), Hedgehog, and WNT growth factor (Wnt) families seemed to be affected by PACAP1-38 in the newborn rat retina. 
Table 3
 
Genes of a Rat Stem Cell RT2 Profiler PCR Array
Table 3
 
Genes of a Rat Stem Cell RT2 Profiler PCR Array
Results of the array were confirmed by Q-PCR and completed with other members of the abovementioned families. Relative fold changes obtained from an appropriate number of samples by Q-PCR are depicted in Figure 1. Genes investigated but not regulated by PACAP1-38 (Fgf8, Fgf9, Bmp9, and Shh) or no longer affected after 3 hours (Fgf2, Fgf4, and Dhh) are not shown. Fgf1 was significantly upregulated after both 6 (3.15 ± 1.17) and 12 hours (6.44 ± 2.27) after injection (Fig. 1A). Bone morphogenic protein 4 (Bmp4) message level was significantly elevated at 12 hours (11.08 ± 3.15) following PACAP treatment (Fig. 1B). Another member of the TGF-β family, the growth differentiation factor 3 (Gdf3; Fig. 1C), showed a significant increase as early as 3 hours after injection (4.64 ± 2.30), followed by a dramatic drop of Gdf3 transcript level at 6 hours (0.31 ± 0.27). It displayed a further marked elevation at 12 hours (18.31 ± 11.54) after injection. It is noteworthy that the current work is the first to describe Gdf3 expression in the mammalian retina. In Figure 1D, a fluctuating yet significant elevation of Wnt1 expression is depicted at 3, 6, and 12 hours (31.81 ± 9.67, 5.84 ± 1.67, and 18.78 ± 11.80, respectively). Finally, Indian hedgehog (Ihh) expression was investigated (Fig. 1E), which was significantly downregulated at 3 (0.32 ± 0.17) and 6 hours (0.05 ± 0.03) following PACAP1-38 injection, whereas a statistically insignificant elevation was detected at 12 hours (2.42 ± 1.16). However, the overall expression of Ihh was extremely low not only in the PACAP1-38–treated retina but also in the control retina. This gene was therefore not analyzed further. 
Protein Study.
Because mRNA translation is a highly regulated process, any changes in gene expression need to be verified at protein levels as well. In Figure 2, representative runs are shown from five treated retinas examined after PACAP1-38 administration at 6, 12, and 24 hours. 
Changes in mRNA levels were not clearly reflected in Fgf1 protein expression as evidenced by the finding that only a slight increase was observed in retinas harvested 12 hours after injection. That could be very likely due to the inappropriate timing of tissue harvests following treatment. 
The marked increase of Bmp4 protein detected at 6 hours after injection reduced slightly by 24 hours. 
In the case of the Gdf3 protein, a repressive effect of PACAP1-38 on the transcript level was not seen at any time point investigated. Rather, a progressive elevation from 6 to 24 hours was observed. 
The remarkably strong upregulation of Wnt1 was seen in protein expression as a marked increase of Wnt1 protein observed in retinas harvested 6 hours after injection and remained upregulated after 12 hours also. 
Pharmacologic Dissection of PACAP1-38–Induced Gene Expression
Pursuing our investigation, we aimed to identify the PACAP receptors mediating the above described effects on gene expression. PAC1 and VPAC1 antagonists were administered alone or with PACAP1-38, and their effects were examined 6 hours after treatments. A truncated form of PACAP1-38, PACAP6-38,22 and a modified analog of maxadilan, M65,23 widely used antagonists of the PAC1 receptor, were applied to block PAC1 receptors. 
Figure 3A shows that a single injection of PACAP6-38 reduced the expression of Fgf1 (0.51 ± 0.31) and prevented the stimulatory effect of PACAP1-38 (1.30 ± 0.17). M65, however, exerting an agonistic effect on Fg1 message level, was ineffective either when administrated alone (2.95 ± 1.20) or together with PACAP1-38 (3.60 ± 1.01). At a lower dose (e.g., 2.5 nmol M65), its agonistic action was not observed nor did it prevent a PACAP-induced effect (data not shown). PG97-269, a potent and selective antagonist for VPAC1 receptors,24,25 reduced the expression of Fgf1 (0.78 ± 0.10) and also prevented the upregulatory effect of PACAP1-38 (1.00 ± 0.15). As a result of combined blockade of PAC1 and VPAC1 receptors, Fgf1 expression ceased (0.06 ± 0.01). 
In the sole presence of PACAP6-38 (Fig. 3B), Bmp4 expression increased (8.39 ± 4.45); however, the PAC1 antagonist significantly inhibited PACAP1-38 action (0.60 ± 0.08). M65 acted as expected; a single injection of the PAC1 antagonist suppressed Bmp4 transcription (0.66 ± 0.20) and blocked the PACAP1-38 effect (1.44 ± 0.14). PG97-269 alone had no effect on Bmp4 transcript level (1.21 ± 0.14) but prevented the PACAP1-38–induced upregulation of Bmp4 (0.95 ± 0.08). The two antagonists (i.e., M65 and PG95-269) inhibited Bmp4 transcription (0.15 ± 0.05) and significantly hindered the PACAP1-38 effect (0.20 ± 0.07). 
With regard to Gdf3, PACAP1-38 exerted a significant inhibition after 6 hours (Fig. 3C). Interestingly, this inhibitory effect was completely unaffected by either the PAC1 or VPAC1 antagonist. The combined administration of the two antagonists failed to block the suppression of Gdf3 expression. 
Figure 3D illustrates that Wnt1 expression was not affected by PACAP6-38 (0.91 ± 0.57), but it could antagonize PACAP1-38 (0.05 ± 0.009). Similarly, both M65 and PG95-269 exerted a repressive effect (0.06 ± 0.02 and 0.17 ± 0.02, respectively) and prevented a PACAP1-38–evoked induction (0.19 ± 0.14 and 0.06 ± 0.01, respectively). Coadministration of M65 and PG95-269 completely abolished Wnt1 expression (0.008 ± 0.002). 
Discussion
Retinoprotective functions of PACAP1-38 are now well established due to a conspicuous amount of literature that proves the inhibitory effect of PACAP1-38 on the apoptotic machinery.26 Thus, the antiapoptotic effect of PACAP1-38 and the underlying signaling pathways are the best-understood processes in PACAP research.27 Nevertheless, examination of the developmental processes regulated by PACAP1-38 is essential to understand its neuroprotective effects and their therapeutic consequences. 
Previously, we described a stage-dependent expression of VPAC1, VPAC2, and four PAC1 isoforms (Hop1, Hip, Null, and HipHop1) that might entail diverse and opposing actions in postnatal retinal development.18,28 However, in the present study, we aimed to point out that the versatility cannot be understood only through diversity of PACAP1-38 receptors. Instead, interaction with other regulators should be considered in which the PACAP1-38 can act directly and indirectly on the retinal microenvironment and evolve a complex array of function. 
Secreted Intercellular Signaling Proteins Behaving as Morphogens Regulated by PACAP1-38
Of all the Fgf family members, only Fgf1 seemed to be regulated by PACAP1-38. Fgf2 and Fgf4 were affected only in the short term, whereas Fgf8 and Fg9 expression was not regulated by PACAP1-38. Overall, Fgf receptors play an important role in progenitor proliferation, retinal ganglion cell differentiation, cell fate commitment, and photoreceptor survival during embryonic and postnatal retinal development.29,30 More specifically, Fgf1 was found to be essential for the timing of ganglion cell genesis and differentiation during embryonic development.31,32 In the newborn (P0) retina, Fgf1 is produced and might be released by ganglion cells and putative amacrine cells of the proximal neuroblast layer (NBL),33 acting as a mitogen for progenitors in mouse retina.34 
The bone morphogenic protein family, members of the TGF-β superfamily, consists of a large number of branches and structurally conserved proteins. We found that Bmp4 and Gdf3 appeared to be regulated by PACAP1-38, whereas Bmp9 expression appeared to be unaffected. Bmp4 induces retinal progenitor proliferation35 and directs them toward ganglion cell fate.36 Bmp4 also guides axons targeting to the optic nerve head37; thus, Bmp4 could be an important secreted factor that stimulates ganglion cell production and differentiation. Therefore, the subsequent effect of Bmp4 production by PACAP1-38 could be the induction of progenitor cells and/or ganglion cell differentiation. Interestingly, Gdf3 displayed an oscillating expression on PACAP1-38 treatment. Not as enhanced, yet oscillating, patterns were also observed in the case of Wnt1 and Ihh. Such a fluctuation could be caused by the complex PAC1/VPAC1-2 signaling, which might interfere with each other or by the hysteresis of homeostatic feedback by other induced regulators. The complex signaling of PAC1/VPAC1-2 receptors and/or crosstalks between the pathways are the most probable assumption. It has been reported, for instance, that Gdf3 is an inhibitor of its own Bmp subfamily,38 or Bmps interact with Fgf pathways.39 The results certainly warrant further inquiries into this matter. However, it is critical to point out the importance of investigating protein levels. Our results shows that Gdf3 levels were actually permanently upregulated, no matter how much the transcript levels were repressed. To date, localization and function of Gdf3 in the developing retina are unknown. However, data obtained from embryonic stem cell studies show that Gdf3 plays a role both in maintaining the undifferentiated stage of pluripotent stem cells and inducing their differentiation in a species-dependent manner.40 However, these data are restricted to embryonic tissues; in addition, the missing retinal information makes it difficult to interpret our findings. Nevertheless, the present report is the first to document the appearance and expression of Gdf3 in retinal tissue and implicates its role in postnatal development. 
Wnt proteins are one such class of morphogens that regulate an enormous variety of developmental events. The significance of Wnt pathway is further underlined by the fact that malfunction of the Wnt signaling results in disease conditions (i.e., cancer).41 Indeed, the Wnt family members are involved in retinal development, although no information is available on their function in the early postnatal period. In addition, even in the embryonic retina, opposing data can be found. Accordingly, elimination of the canonical Wnt signaling pathway was reported to cause disruption of the laminal structures but not neurogenesis in the mouse retina,42 whereas its activation inhibited neuronal differentiation, inducing a continuous growth in avian retina.43 Considering that cell populations respond to secreted morphogens in a stage-dependent manner that determines the resulting gene expression and cellular differentiation, we cannot rely on data from embryonic tissue. We can only speculate what the consequences of inducing Wnt1 production might be in the P1 rat retina. In the rat retina, numerous important processes take place during the early postnatal period (from P0 to P5). Around birth, amacrine cell genesis, in parallel with rod, bipolar, Müller cell genesis, and final mitosis of committed horizontal cell precursors, are the hallmarks of the early postnatal development.44 These critical actions underlying cell proliferation, survival, and differentiation are potential targets of Wnt1 in the newborn retina. 
The fourth class of secreted protein family that we investigated was Hedgehogs, which play central roles in eye development throughout vertebral species from fish to humans.45 Of all the three members, Shh expression did not change on PACAP1-38 injection, Dhh expression was altered only transiently, and Ihh message level was significantly and permanently suppressed by PACAP1-38. Ihh was reported to be expressed in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) from E12 through adulthood in the rat retina.46 In albino Wistar pups, separation of the RPE from the retinal tissue is difficult. Thus, it is very likely that poor expression of Ihh was actually measured in the RPE that might have been carried over. Genetic knockout of Ihh resulted in maldevelopment of RPE.47 Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that PACAP1-38 could also contribute to RPE development through regulation of normal Ihh expression. 
Signaling of All Three PACAP Receptors (PAC1, VPAC1, and VPAC2) Are Contributing to the Secretagogue Effect
PACAP1-38 signals via three transmembrane receptors. PAC1 binds PACAP1-38 with the greatest affinity, whereas VPAC1 and VPAC2 bind PACAP1-38 and VIP with equal affinity.48,49 Previously, we reported that all three PACAP1-38 receptors are expressed in the newborn rat retina,18 suggesting their involvement in early postnatal development. We probed two commercially available PAC1 receptor antagonists, PACAP6-38 and M65. Probing of both PAC1 antagonist was necessary to confirm the role of the PAC1 receptor because PACAP6-38 was reported to be a weak agonist for the VPAC2 receptor,22 and M65 exerted agonistic effect on Fgf1 expression. However, here we provide data that PAC1 and VPAC1 receptors mediate the same effects (i.e., increasing expression of Fgf1, Bmp4, and Wnt1) but do not control Gdf3 expression. We conclude that Gdf3 is mediated by PACAP1-38 through VPAC2 receptors. 
Most of the published studies analyzing the neuroprotective potential of PACAP1-38 investigated the direct antiapoptotic effects of the peptide. Quite a few publications focused on its secretory functions, revealing that PACAP1-38 could stimulate expression and release of other factors with neuroprotective potential such as tissue plasminogen activator and interleukin-6.50,51 Here, we added more secreted regulators to the list. 
In the present study, we report first that PACAP1-38 induces a sustained production of crucial morphogens, which in turn could lead to diverse and complex biological outcomes. Promoting Fgf1 and Bmp4 expression, PACAP1-38 could very well contribute to progenitor induction and retinal cell differentiation (e.g., retinal ganglion cell), a hypothesis that definitely prompts further studies. Furthermore, Fgfs, Bmps, and Wnt1 not only behave as morphogens during retinal development, but more importantly, they are implicated in retinal regeneration following neurodegenerative diseases or injuries.35,52 Thus, our findings may expand the therapeutic potential of PACAP1-38 whose functional roles encompass both neuroprotection and neuroregeneration. 
Acknowledgments
The authors thank Paul Witkovsky (New York University, New York, NY, USA) who improved the language of our manuscript and provided useful critical comments. 
Supported by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office (KTIA_NAP_13-1-2013-0001). This research was realized in the frames of TÁMOP 4.2.4. A/2-11-1-2012-0001 National Excellence Program – Elaborating and operating an inland student and researcher personal support system convergence program. 
Disclosure: M. Lakk, None; V. Denes, None; K. Kovacs, None; O. Hideg, None; B.F. Szabo, None; R. Gabriel, None 
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Figure 1
 
Temporal effects of i.v. PACAP1-38 administration on expression of Fgf1, Bmp4, Gdf3, Wnt1, and Ihh at 3, 6, and 12 hours following injection. (A) Fgf1 transcription was not altered at 3 hours (0.72 ± 0.12) but significantly upregulated by PACAP at 6 (3.15 ± 1.17) and 12 (6.44 ± 2.27) hours after injecion. (B) Similarly, Bmp4 message level did not changed at 3 hours (0.75 ± 0.31) but was significantly elevated at 6 and 12 hours (4.68 ± 2.97 and 11.08 ± 3.15, respectively) following PACAP treatment. (C) Gdf3 expression, following a significant increase at 3 hours (4.64 ± 2.30), was hardly detectable after 6 hours (0.31 ± 0.27). Then, it displayed a marked but not significant elevation at 12 hours (18.31 ± 11.54). (D) In Wnt1 expression, a significant elevation was observed at 3 hours (31.81 ± 9.67), followed by a dramatical drop at 6 hours (5.84 ± 1.67) and then a marked elevation at 12 hours (18.78 ± 11.80) after injection. (E) Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating peptide appeared to be a repressing regulator of Ihh transcription at 3 (0.32 ± 0.17) and 6 hours (0.05 ± 0.03) after injection. Statistically significant differences were examined by independent samples t-test. Stars indicate P ≤ 0.05.
Figure 1
 
Temporal effects of i.v. PACAP1-38 administration on expression of Fgf1, Bmp4, Gdf3, Wnt1, and Ihh at 3, 6, and 12 hours following injection. (A) Fgf1 transcription was not altered at 3 hours (0.72 ± 0.12) but significantly upregulated by PACAP at 6 (3.15 ± 1.17) and 12 (6.44 ± 2.27) hours after injecion. (B) Similarly, Bmp4 message level did not changed at 3 hours (0.75 ± 0.31) but was significantly elevated at 6 and 12 hours (4.68 ± 2.97 and 11.08 ± 3.15, respectively) following PACAP treatment. (C) Gdf3 expression, following a significant increase at 3 hours (4.64 ± 2.30), was hardly detectable after 6 hours (0.31 ± 0.27). Then, it displayed a marked but not significant elevation at 12 hours (18.31 ± 11.54). (D) In Wnt1 expression, a significant elevation was observed at 3 hours (31.81 ± 9.67), followed by a dramatical drop at 6 hours (5.84 ± 1.67) and then a marked elevation at 12 hours (18.78 ± 11.80) after injection. (E) Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating peptide appeared to be a repressing regulator of Ihh transcription at 3 (0.32 ± 0.17) and 6 hours (0.05 ± 0.03) after injection. Statistically significant differences were examined by independent samples t-test. Stars indicate P ≤ 0.05.
Figure 2
 
Temporal changes in protein level of Fgf1, Bmp4, Gdf3, and Wnt1 are depicted at 6, 12, and 24 hours following i.v. PACAP1-38 injection. Fgf1 protein (17 kDa) expression was increased at 12 hours and prolonged through 24 hours after injection. Increased Bmp4 protein (22 kDa) level was captured at 6 hours after PACAP1-38 treatment. Mature Gdf3 protein (15 kDa) level displayed a permanent elevation from 6 to 24 hours after injection. The highest level of Wnt1 protein (41 kDa) was detected at 6 hours after injection, whereas a moderate increase of Wnt1 protein expression was observed at 12 and 24 hours after injection. Loading control bands of β-tubulin (50 kDa) or GAPDH (37 kDa) are shown in the upper rows.
Figure 2
 
Temporal changes in protein level of Fgf1, Bmp4, Gdf3, and Wnt1 are depicted at 6, 12, and 24 hours following i.v. PACAP1-38 injection. Fgf1 protein (17 kDa) expression was increased at 12 hours and prolonged through 24 hours after injection. Increased Bmp4 protein (22 kDa) level was captured at 6 hours after PACAP1-38 treatment. Mature Gdf3 protein (15 kDa) level displayed a permanent elevation from 6 to 24 hours after injection. The highest level of Wnt1 protein (41 kDa) was detected at 6 hours after injection, whereas a moderate increase of Wnt1 protein expression was observed at 12 and 24 hours after injection. Loading control bands of β-tubulin (50 kDa) or GAPDH (37 kDa) are shown in the upper rows.
Figure 3
 
Pharmacologic analysis of PACAP1-38 effects on Fgf1 (A), Bmp4 (B), Gdf3 (C), and Wnt1 (D) expression at 6 hours after injection. The pooled cDNA of control tissues taken as reference with a value of 1 is shown in the first place of each panel. Effects of 100 pmol PACAP1-38 on gene expression at 6 hours after injection are depicted by transversal striped bars. Effects of a single injection of 5 nmol PACAP6-38 (PAC1 antagonist) and the combined administration of PACAP6-38 and PACAP1-38 are shown by dotted bars. Effects of a single injection of 5 nmol M65 (PAC1 antagonist) and the combined administration of M65 and PACAP1-38 are shown by squared bars. Effects of a single injection of 10 nmol PG97-269 (VPAC1 antagonist) and the combined administration of PG97-269 and PACAP1-38 are shown by shaded bars. Effects of coadministration of 5 nmol M65 and 10 nmol PG97-269 and the combined administration of M65, PG97-269, and PACAP1-38 are shown by vertical striped bars. Statistically significant differences were examined by 1-way ANOVA followed by a post hoc Tukey test. Stars indicate P ≤ 0.05.
Figure 3
 
Pharmacologic analysis of PACAP1-38 effects on Fgf1 (A), Bmp4 (B), Gdf3 (C), and Wnt1 (D) expression at 6 hours after injection. The pooled cDNA of control tissues taken as reference with a value of 1 is shown in the first place of each panel. Effects of 100 pmol PACAP1-38 on gene expression at 6 hours after injection are depicted by transversal striped bars. Effects of a single injection of 5 nmol PACAP6-38 (PAC1 antagonist) and the combined administration of PACAP6-38 and PACAP1-38 are shown by dotted bars. Effects of a single injection of 5 nmol M65 (PAC1 antagonist) and the combined administration of M65 and PACAP1-38 are shown by squared bars. Effects of a single injection of 10 nmol PG97-269 (VPAC1 antagonist) and the combined administration of PG97-269 and PACAP1-38 are shown by shaded bars. Effects of coadministration of 5 nmol M65 and 10 nmol PG97-269 and the combined administration of M65, PG97-269, and PACAP1-38 are shown by vertical striped bars. Statistically significant differences were examined by 1-way ANOVA followed by a post hoc Tukey test. Stars indicate P ≤ 0.05.
Table 1
 
Names and Doses of Peptides Used for i.v. Injections
Table 1
 
Names and Doses of Peptides Used for i.v. Injections
Table 2
 
Primer Sequences Used in Q-PCR Analysis
Table 2
 
Primer Sequences Used in Q-PCR Analysis
Table 3
 
Genes of a Rat Stem Cell RT2 Profiler PCR Array
Table 3
 
Genes of a Rat Stem Cell RT2 Profiler PCR Array
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