Development of the retinal vascular network is strictly confined within the neuronal retina, allowing the intraocular media to be optically transparent. However, in retinal ischemia, pro-angiogenic factors (including vascular endothelial growth factor-A, VEGF-A) induce aberrant guidance of retinal vessels into the vitreous. Here, we show that the soluble heparan sulfate level in murine intraocular fluid is high particularly during ocular development. When the eyes of young mice with retinal ischemia were treated with heparan sulfate-degrading enzyme, the subsequent aberrant angiogenesis was greatly enhanced compared to PBS-injected contralateral eyes; however, increased angiogenesis was completely antagonized by simultaneous injection of heparin. Intraocular injection of heparan sulfate or heparin alone in these eyes resulted in reduced neovascularization. In cell cultures, the porcine ocular fluid suppressed the dose-dependent proliferation of human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) mediated by VEGF-A. Ocular fluid and heparin also inhibited the migration and tube formation by these cells. The binding of VEGF-A and HUVECs was reduced under a high concentration of heparin or ocular fluid compared to lower concentrations of heparin. In vitro assays demonstrated that the ocular fluid or soluble heparan sulfate or heparin inhibited the binding of VEGF-A and immobilized heparin or VEGF receptor 2 but not VEGF receptor 1. The recognition that the high concentration of soluble heparan sulfate in the ocular fluid allows it to serve as an endogenous inhibitor of aberrant retinal vascular growth provides a platform for modulating heparan sulfate/heparin level
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