Redox Biol. 2023 Jun 15;64:102786. doi: 10.1016/j.redox.2023.102786. Online ahead of print.
Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a major cause of blindness in adult, and the accumulation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) is a major pathologic event in DR. Methylglyoxal (MGO), a highly reactive dicarbonyl compound, is a precursor of AGEs. Although the therapeutic potential of metformin for retinopathy disorders has recently been elucidated, possibly through AMPK activation, it remains unknown how metformin directly affects the MGO-induced stress response in retinal pigment epithelial cells. Therefore, in this study, we compared the effects of metformin and the AMPK activator A769662 on MGO-induced DR in mice, as well as evaluated cytotoxicity, mitochondrial dynamic changes and dysfunction in ARPE-19 cells. We found MGO can induce mitochondrial ROS production and mitochondrial membrane potential loss, but reduce cytosolic ROS level in ARPE-19 cells. Although these effects of MGO can be reversed by both metformin and A769662, we demonstrated that reduction of mitochondrial ROS production rather than restoration of cytosolic ROS level contributes to cell protective effects of metformin and A769662. Moreover, MGO inhibits AMPK activity, reduces LC3II accumulation, and suppresses protein and gene expressions of MFN1, PGC-1α and TFAM, leading to mitochondrial fission, inhibition of mitochondrial biogenesis and autophagy. In contrast, these events of MGO were reversed by metformin in an AMPK-dependent manner as evidenced by the effects of compound C and AMPK silencing. In addition, we observed an AMPK-dependent upregulation of glyoxalase 1, a ubiquitous cellular enzyme that participates in the detoxification of MGO. In intravitreal drug-treated mice, we found that AMPK activators can reverse the MGO-induced cotton wool spots, macular edema and retinal damage. Functional, histological and optical coherence tomography analysis support the protective actions of both agents against MGO-elicited retinal damage. Metformin and A769662 via AMPK activation exert a strong protection against MGO-induced retinal pigment epithelial cell death and retinopathy. Therefore, metformin and AMPK activator can be therapeutic agents for DR.