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Introduction: This study aimed to investigate the characteristics of retinal vascular degeneration and the expression of vessel-related Claudin (CLD) proteins in retinal degeneration mouse ( Pde6βrd1/rd1 rd1 mouse). Methods: Retinas from wild-type (WT) mice and rd1 mice at postnatal day 3 (P3), P5, P8, P11, P13, P15, P18, and P21 were collected. Immunofluorescence staining was used to assess the retinal vascular plexus, cell proliferation, CLD expression, and retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). The distribution of retinal superficial and deep vessels was determined by Isolectin B4 fluorescence staining of retinal flat mounts and frozen sections. Hematoxylin and eosin staining and terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dNTP nick end labeling were used to investigate retinal histological degeneration and apoptosis in rd1 mice respectively. Quantitative real-time PCR and western blot were used to measure the expression of vessel-related CLD-1, 2, 3 and CLD-5, vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA), and vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 2 (VEGFR2) in the retinas. Results: Compared to the WT mice, the rd1 mice displayed delayed but completed progressive development in the retinal superficial vascular plexuses (SVP) and deep vascular plexuses (DVP). In the rd1 mice, the thickness of retinal layers gradually decreased and the retinas underwent progressive atrophy and degeneration. The deterioration got worse at the late developmental stage. The declined vessel density of SVP and DVP correlated with the decreased thickness of the full and inner parts of the retina and the reduced number of RGCs. DVP degeneration and the thinning of the outer nuclear layer occurred an obvious reduction at P15. The expression levels of CLD-1, CLD-2, CLD-3, CLD-5, VEGFA, and VEGFR2 decreased and were consistently lower in the rd1 mice than in WT mice since P15. Conclusion: Rd1 mice exhibited progressive vascular degeneration of retinal SVP and DVP, the thinning and atrophy of retinal ONL and RGC, and the downregulation of vessel-related CLD proteins during the late developmental period. Thus, the rd1 mouse is a useful model of not only retinal neuro-degeneration but also retinal vascular degeneration.

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