VEGF-A Promotes Both Pro-angiogenic and Neurotrophic Capacities for Nerve Recovery After Compressive Neuropathy in Rats
OBJECTIVE The objectives of the study were to evaluate retrograde axonal transport of vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A) protein to sensory neurons after intramuscular administration of an engineered zinc finger protein activator of endogenous VEGF-A (VZ+434) in an experimental model of diabetes, and to characterize the VEGF-A target neurons. RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS We compared the expression of VEGF-A in lumbar (L)4/5 dorsal root ganglia (DRG) of control rats and VZ+434-treated and untreated streptozotocin (STZ)-induced diabetic rats. In addition, axonal transport of VEGF-A, activation of signal transduction pathways in the DRG, and mechanical sensitivity were assessed. RESULTS VEGF-A immunoreactivity (IR) was detected in small- to medium-diameter neurons in DRG of control rats. Fewer VEGF-A-IR neurons were observed in DRG from STZ-induced diabetic rats; this decrease was confirmed and quantified by Western blotting. VZ+434 administration resulted in a significant increase in VEGF-A protein expression in ipsilateral DRG, 24 h after injection. VEGF-A was axonally transported to the DRG via the sciatic nerve. VZ+434 administration resulted in significant activation of AKT in the ipsilateral DRG by 48 h that was sustained for 1 week after injection. VZ+434 protected against mechanical allodynia 8 weeks after STZ injection. CONCLUSIONS Intramuscular administration of VZ+434 increases VEGF-A protein levels in L4/5 DRG, correcting the deficit observed after induction of diabetes, and protects against mechanical allodynia. Elevated VEGF-A levels result from retrograde axonal transport and are associated with altered signal transduction, via the phosphatidylinositol 3'-kinase pathway. These data support a neuroprotective role for VEGF-A in the therapeutic actions of VZ+434 and suggest a mechanism by which VEGF-A exerts this activity.