Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can be classified into two main categories: the atrophic, dry form and the exudative, wet form. The crucial difference between dry and wet AMD is the development of choroidal neovascularization in wet AMD. One fundamental cause of the neovascularization is the increased expression of VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) in retinal pigment epithelial cells. Progression of AMD is linked to augmentation of cellular stress, for example, oxidative stress, proteotoxic stress, inflammation and hypoxia. All these conditions can trigger stress in endoplasmic reticulum (ER), which maintains protein quality control in cells. ER stress induces the unfolded protein response (UPR) via IRE1 (inositol-requiring protein-1), PERK (protein kinase RNA-like ER kinase) and ATF6 (activating transcription factor-6) transducers. UPR signaling is a double-edged sword, that is, it can restore cellular homeostasis as far as possible, but ultimately may lead to chronic, overwhelming stress that can cause apoptotic cell death. Interestingly, ER stress is a well-known inducer of angiogenesis in cancer. Moreover, stress conditions associated with the progress of AMD can induce the expression of VEGF. We discuss the role of ER stress in the regulation of neovascularization and the conversion of dry AMD to its wet, detrimental counterpart.
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