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02.05.2018 | Basic Science | Ausgabe 6/2018

Graefe's Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology 6/2018

Combined VEGF/PDGF inhibition using axitinib induces αSMA expression and a pro-fibrotic phenotype in human pericytes

Graefe's Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology > Ausgabe 6/2018
Jakob Siedlecki, Ben Asani, Christian Wertheimer, Anna Hillenmayer, Andreas Ohlmann, Claudia Priglinger, Siegfried Priglinger, Armin Wolf, Kirsten Eibl-Lindner
Wichtige Hinweise
This work was presented at the 135th annual meeting of the DOG in Berlin in September 2017.



Large trials on anti-VEGF/PDGF (vascular endothelial/platelet-derived growth factor) combination therapy have been established to improve management of neovascular activity in age-related macular degeneration. Targeting pericytes, PDGF is thought to induce vessel regression and reduce fibrovascular scarring. The fate of pericytes exposed to anti-VEGF/PDGF combination therapy is not clear. Therefore, this study was designed to study the influence of anti-VEGF/PDGF on pericyte phenotype and cellular behavior.


Human pericytes from placenta (hPC-PL) were treated with axitinib, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor targeting VEGFR1–3 and PDGFR. Toxic effects were excluded using live/dead staining. Phenotypic changes were evaluated using phalloidin staining for actin cytoskeleton and the expression of stress fibers. MRNA and protein expression levels of α-smooth muscle actin (αSMA) as a marker of proto-myofibroblastic transition were evaluated with real-time PCR and Western blotting. Influences of fibrotic cellular mechanisms were evaluated with a scratch wound migration and a collagen gel contraction assay.


Treatment with 0.5, 1, and 2.5 μg/ml axitinib strongly induced a proto-myofibroblast-like actin cytoskeleton with a marked increase in stress fibers. Quantitative real-time PCR and Western blotting revealed these changes to be linked to dose-dependent increases in αSMA mRNA and protein expression. However, fibrotic cellular mechanisms were significantly reduced in the presence of axitinib (scratch wound closure: up to − 78.4%, collagen gel contraction: up to − 37.4%).


Combined anti-VEGF/PDGF inhibition seems to induce a proto-myofibroblast-like phenotype in human pericytes in vitro, but reduce profibrotic cellular mechanisms due to prolonged anti-PDGF inhibition.

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