The molecular mechanisms of vascular leakage in diabetic macular edema and proliferative retinopathy are poorly understood, mainly due to the lack of reliable invivo models. The Akimba (Ins2AkitaVEGF+/-) mouse model combines retinal neovascularization with hyperglycemia, and in contrast to other models, displays the majority of signs of advanced clinical diabetic retinopathy (DR). To study the molecular mechanism that underlies the breakdown of the blood-retinal barrier (BRB) in diabetic macular edema and proliferative diabetic retinopathy, we investigated the retinal vasculature of Akimba and its parental mice Kimba (trVEGF029) and Akita (Ins2Akita). Quantitative PCR, immunohistochemistry and fluorescein angiography were used to characterize the retinal vasculature with special reference to the inner BRB. Correlations between the degree of fluorescein leakage and retinal gene expression were tested by calculating the Spearman's correlation coefficient. Fluorescein leakage demonstrating BRB loss was observed in Kimba and Akimba, but not in Akita or wild type mice. In Kimba and Akimba mice fluorescein leakage was associated with focal angiogenesis and correlated significantly with Plvap gene expression. PLVAP is an endothelial cell-specific protein that is absent in intact blood-retinal barrier, but its expression significantly increases in pathological conditions such as DR. Furthermore, in Akimba mice BRB disruption was linked to decreased expression of endothelial junction proteins, pericyte dropout and vessel loss. Despite fluorescein leakage, no alteration in BRB protein levels or pericyte coverage was detected in retinas of Kimba mice. In summary, our data not only demonstrate that hyperglycemia sensitizes retinal vasculature to the effects of VEGF, leading to more severe microvascular changes, but also confirm an important role of PLVAP in the regulation of BRB permeability. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.