Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) recently found very long-chain (VLC) lipids, or ceramides, in the tight junctions that connect retinal blood vessels, leading them to investigate the lipid’s role in mitigating diabetic eye damage.1 Previously, ceramides had only been observed in the skin.

Using a diabetes-induced loss of the blood-retinal barrier as a model, they discovered long-chain fatty acids protein 4 (ELOVL4) is responsible for producing these VLC ceramides. ELOVL4 is suppressed in diabetic eye disease, and this study shows overexpression of ELOVL4 prevents vascular endothelial growth factor—and interleukin-1β—induced permeability. Delivering the protein intravitreally further reduced the diabetes-induced increase in vascular permeability.1

“Incorporating more of the long-chain lipids into the eye could potentially be a new treatment down the road and involve injections or even eye drops,” said Julia Busik, PhD, lead author of the study and a physiology professor at MSU, in a statement on the university’s website.2

1. Kady NM, Liu X, Lydic TA, et al. ELOVL4-mediated production of very long-chain ceramides stabilizes tight junctions and prevents diabetes-induced retinal vascular permeability. Diabetes. 2018;67(4):769-81.
2. Michigan State University. Unexpected finding may deter disabling diabetic eye disease. April 6, 2018. Accessed April 9, 2018.