The ELAVL1 (or human antigen R - HuR) RNA binding protein stabilizes the mRNA, with an AU-rich element, of several genes such as growth factors (i.e. VEGF) and inflammatory cytokines (i.e. TNFα). We hereby carried out a virtual screening campaign in order to identify and test novel HuR-mRNA disruptors. Best-scored compounds were tested in an in-vitro model of diabetic retinopathy, namely human retinal endothelial cells (HRECs) challenged with high-glucose levels (25 mM). HuR, VEGF and TNFα protein contents were evaluated by western-blot analysis in total cell lysates. VEGF and TNFα released from HRECs were measured in cell medium by ELISA. We found that two derivatives bearing indole moiety, VP12/14 and VP12/110, modulated HuR expression and decreased VEGF and TNF-α release by HREC exposed to high glucose (HG) levels. VP12/14 and VP12/110 inhibited VEGF and TNF-α release in HRECs challenged with high glucose levels, similarly to dihydrotanshinone (DHTS), a small molecule known to interfere with HuR- TNFα mRNA binding. The present findings demonstrated that VP12/14 and VP12/110 are innovative molecules with anti-inflammatory and anti-angiogenic properties, suggesting their potential use as novel candidates for treatment of diabetic retinopathy.
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