The discovery has implications for preserving vision in blinding eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in Americans over 50.
The formation of new blood vessels, called angiogenesis, also plays a key role in certain cancers and in atherosclerosis. Conducting experiments in mouse retinas, the researchers found that resveratrol can inhibit angiogenesis. Another surprise was the pathway through which resveratrol blocked angiogenesis.
"A great deal of research has identified resveratrol as an anti-aging compound, and given our interest in age-related eye disease, we wanted to find out whether there was a link," says Doctor Rajendra S. Apte, the study's senior investigator. "There were reports on resveratrol's effects on blood vessels in other parts of the body, but there was no evidence that it had any effects within the eye."
The investigators studied mice that develop abnormal blood vessels in the retina after laser treatment. Apte's team found that when the mice were given resveratrol, the abnormal blood vessels began to disappear.
Examining the blood-vessel cells in the laboratory, they identified a pathway that was responsible for the compound's protective effects. "We have identified a novel pathway that could become a new target for therapies," Apte says. "And we believe the pathway may be involved both in age-related eye disease and in other diseases where angiogenesis plays a destructive role."
In mice, resveratrol was effective both at preventing new blood vessels and at eliminating abnormal blood vessels that already had begun to develop. "This could potentially be a preventive therapy in high-risk patients," he says. "And because it worked on existing, abnormal blood vessels in the animals, it may be a therapy that can be started after angiogenesis already is causing damage."
Apte says the pathway may be active not only in those blinding eye diseases, but in cancers and atherosclerosis as well. If so, then one day it might be possible to use resveratrol to improve eyesight and to prevent cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer, too.
MEDICA.de; Source: Washington University School of Medicine