Proliferative vitreoretinopathy (PVR) is a common complication of open globe injury and the most common cause of failed retinal detachment surgery. The response by retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells liberated into the vitreous includes proliferation and migration; most importantly, epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) of RPE plays a central role in the development and progress of PVR. For the first time, we show that knockdown of BIRC5, a member of the inhibitor of apoptosis protein family, using either lentiviral vector based CRISPR/Cas9 nickase gene editing or inhibition of survivin using the small-molecule inhibitor YM155, results in the suppression of EMT in RPE cells. Knockdown of survivin or inhibition of survivin significantly reduced TGFβ-induced cell proliferation and migration. We further demonstrated that knockdown or inhibition of survivin attenuated the TGFβ signaling by showing reduced phospho-SMAD2 in BIRC5 knockdown or YM155-treated cells compared to controls. Inhibition of the TGFβ pathway using TGFβ receptor inhibitor also suppressed survivin expression in RPE cells. Our studies demonstrate that survivin contributes to EMT by cross-talking with the TGFβ pathway in RPE cells. Targeting survivin using small-molecule inhibitors may provide a novel approach to treat PVR disease.
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