Dysregulation of the OGF–OGFr pathway correlates with elevated serum OGF and ocular surface complications in the diabetic rat

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Diabetes often presents with ocular surface complications including dry eye, keratopathy, and altered sensitivity, along with systemic disorders. A common theme associated with corneal surface defects is decreased cellular proliferation. The opioid growth factor (OGF)–OGF receptor (OGFr) regulatory axis maintains epithelial homeostasis and can be modulated by naltrexone, an opioid receptor antagonist, to block OGF–OGFr interaction and increase cellular replication. Complete blockade using naltrexone accelerates cell proliferation, increases the rate of re-epithelialization in corneal surface abrasions, reverses dry eye, and restores corneal surface sensitivity in animal models of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Data on the efficacy of naltrexone in these models suggest that the OGF–OGFr axis is dysregulated in diabetes. In the present study, we investigated the OGF–OGFr axis by assessing serum and tissue levels of OGF and OGFr during the development of streptozotocin-induced hyperglycemia and postulated a mechanism of action. We correlated the dysregulation of the OGF–OGFr axis with the onset and magnitude of corneal surface complications (e.g. tear fluid production, corneal surface sensitivity) in type 1 diabetes (T1D). Serum levels of OGF increased in both uncontrolled T1D and insulin-controlled (T1D-INS) male rats within four weeks of streptozotocin injection. Serum OGFr levels were significantly reduced in diabetic rats on weeks 3 and 8 post streptozotocin. Tear production was significantly reduced, and corneal sensitivity measurements were abnormal in both T1D and T1D-INS animals within four weeks of streptozotocin. Corneal re-epithelialization was delayed in T1D rats, but not in T1D-INS animals; however, expression levels of the inhibitory growth factor OGF and its receptor, OGFr, were elevated in the corneal epithelium more than 2-fold in both diabetic groups. These data demonstrate for the first time that dysregulation of the OGF–OGFr axis in the diabetic cornea is associated with the onset and magnitude of ocular surface complications. Impact statement: This research extends our knowledge about the presence and role of the OGF–OGFr regulatory axis in type 1 diabetes (T1D) and demonstrates specific targets within the pathway that are dysregulated. Serum levels of OGF, an inhibitory growth factor, are significantly elevated in male T1D rats, and OGFr serum values are increased in T1D. The onset of elevated OGF corresponds to the onset of ocular surface complications including dry eye, delayed corneal epithelial repair, and abnormal corneal surface sensitivity in T1D. Systemic insulin does not protect against elevated OGF levels or the onset of dry eye and sensitivity. These data are the first to associate some ocular surface defects in T1D with alterations in the OGF–OGFr pathway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1414-1421
Number of pages8
JournalExperimental Biology and Medicine
Issue number15
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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