The neovascular (wet) form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) leads to vision loss due to choroidal neovascularization (CNV). Since macrophages are important in CNV development, and cytomegalovirus (CMV)-specific IgG serum titers in patients with wet AMD are elevated, we hypothesized that chronic CMV infection contributes to wet AMD, possibly by pro-angiogenic macrophage activation. This hypothesis was tested using an established mouse model of experimental CNV. At 6 days, 6 weeks, or 12 weeks after infection with murine CMV (MCMV), laser-induced CNV was performed, and CNV severity was determined 4 weeks later by analysis of choroidal flatmounts. Although all MCMV-infected mice exhibited more severe CNV when compared with control mice, the most severe CNV developed in mice with chronic infection, a time when MCMV-specific gene sequences could not be detected within choroidal tissues. Splenic macrophages collected from mice with chronic MCMV infection, however, expressed significantly greater levels of TNF-α, COX-2, MMP-9, and, most significantly, VEGF transcripts by quantitative RT-PCR assay when compared to splenic macrophages from control mice. Direct MCMV infection of monolayers of IC-21 mouse macrophages confirmed significant stimulation of VEGF mRNA and VEGF protein as determined by quantitative RT-PCR assay, ELISA, and immunostaining. Stimulation of VEGF production in vivo and in vitro was sensitive to the antiviral ganciclovir. These studies suggest that chronic CMV infection may serve as a heretofore unrecognized risk factor in the pathogenesis of wet AMD. One mechanism by which chronic CMV infection might promote increased CNV severity is via stimulation of macrophages to make pro-angiogenic factors (VEGF), an outcome that requires active virus replication.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology