PURPOSE: Iron overload causes oxidative damage in the retina, and it has been involved in the pathogeny of diabetic retinopathy, which is one of the leading causes of blindness in the adult population worldwide. However, how systemic iron enters the retina during diabetes and the role of blood retinal barrier (BRB) in this process remains unclear.

METHODS: The db/db mouse, a well-known model of type 2 diabetes, and a model of systemic iron overload induced by iron dextran intraperitoneal injection, were used. Perls staining and mass spectrophotometry were used to study iron content. Western blot and immunohistochemistry of iron handling proteins were performed to study systemic and retinal iron metabolism. BRB function was assessed by analyzing vascular leakage in fundus angiographies, whole retinas, and retinal sections and by studying the status of tight junctions using transmission electron microscopy and Western blot analysis.

RESULTS: Twenty-week-old db/db mice with systemic iron overload presented ferritin overexpression without iron increase in the retina and did not show any sign of BRB breakdown. These findings were also observed in iron dextran-injected mice. In those animals, after BRB breakdown induced by cryopexy, iron entered massively in the retina.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggested that BRB protects the retina from excessive iron entry in early stages of diabetic retinopathy. Furthermore, ferritin overexpression before iron increase may prepare the retina for a potential BRB breakdown and iron entry from the systemic circulation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number22
Pages (from-to)22
Number of pages14
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 13 Mar 2023


  • Animals
  • BRB breakdown
  • Blood-Retinal Barrier/metabolism
  • Dextrans/metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2/pathology
  • Diabetic Retinopathy/metabolism
  • Ferritins/metabolism
  • Iron Overload/metabolism
  • Iron-Dextran Complex/toxicity
  • Iron/metabolism
  • Mice
  • Retina/metabolism
  • diabetic retinopathy
  • eye cryopexy
  • ferritin
  • iron overload


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