Aldose reductase (AR2), a putative "hypertonicity stress protein" whose gene is induced by hyperosmolarity, protects renal medullary cells against the interstitial hyperosmolarity of antidiuresis by catalyzing the synthesis of millimolar concentrations of intracellular sorbitol from glucose. Although AR2 gene induction has been noted in a variety of renal and nonrenal cells subjected to hypertonic stress in vitro, the functional significance of AR2 gene expression in cells not normally exposed to a hyperosmolar milieu is not fully understood. The physiological impact of basal AR2 expression in such cells may be limited to hyperglycemic states in which AR2 promotes pathological polyol accumulation, a mechanism invoked in the pathogenesis of diabetic complications. Since AR2 overexpression in the retinal pigment epithelium has been associated with diabetic retinopathy, the regulation of AR2 gene expression and associated changes in sorbitol and myo-inositol were studied in human retinal pigment epithelial cells in culture. The relative abundance of aldehyde reductase (AR1) and AR2 mRNA was quantitated by filter hybridization of RNA from several human retinal pigment epithelial cell lines exposed to hyperglycemic and hyperosmolar conditions in vitro. AR2 but not AR1 mRNA was significantly increased some 11- to 18-fold by hyperosmolarity in several retinal pigment epithelial cell lines. A single cell line with a 15-fold higher basal level of AR2 mRNA than other cell lines tested demonstrated no significant increase in AR2 mRNA in response to hypertonic stress. This cell line demonstrated accelerated and exaggerated production of sorbitol and depletion of myo-inositol upon exposure to 20 mM glucose. Therefore, abnormal AR2 expression may enhance the sensitivity of cells to the biochemical consequences of hyperglycemia potentiating the development of diabetic complications.
D N Henry, M Del Monte, D A Greene, P D Killen