Determining the role of SGLT2 inhibition with Empagliflozin in the development of diabetic retinopathy

Jennifer Matthews, Lakshini Herat, Jennifer Rooney, Elizabeth Rakoczy, Markus Schlaich, Vance B. Matthews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Web of Science)


Diabetes mellitus is a chronic metabolic disease that occurs when the pancreas is not producing enough insulin or when the insulin that it does produce is not able to be used effectively in the body. This results in hyperglycemia and if the blood sugars are not controlled, then it can lead to serious damage of various body systems, especially the nerves and the blood vessels. Uncontrolled diabetes is a major cause of kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and amputation. One of the most devastating complications for patients is diabetic retinopathy (DR) which represents the leading cause of preventable vision loss in people between 20 and 65 years of age. Sodium glucose transporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors have been shown to reduce the risk for cardiovascular and renal events, however literature highlighting their potential role to prevent DR is limited. We therefore used a relevant mouse model (Akimba) to explore the effects of the SGLT2 inhibitor, Empagliflozin (EMPA), on the development of diabetic retinal changes. Here we show that when given in the early stages of type 1 diabetes (T1D), EMPA reduced the weight loss usually associated with T1D, decreased diabetes-associated polydipsia, lowered fasting blood glucose levels, decreased kidney-to-body weight ratios and, most importantly in the current context, substantially reduced retinal abnormalities associated with DR. We show that EMPA reduces vascular leakage indicated by lower albumin staining in the vitreous humor and diminishes expression of the pathogenic factor VEGF in the retina. Additionally, EMPA significantly alters the retinal genetic signature. Our findings suggest that SGLT2 inhibition may be a useful therapeutic approach to prevent the development of DR and its severity if given early in the disease process.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberBSR20212209
JournalBioscience Reports
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2022


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