In vitro and ex vivo retina angiogenesis assays

Sara Rezzola, Mirella Belleri, Giuseppina Gariano, Domenico Ribatti, Ciro Costagliola, Francesco Semeraro, Marco Presta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pathological angiogenesis of the retina is a key component of irreversible causes of blindness, as observed in proliferative diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, and retinopathy of prematurity. Seminal studies in the early 1980 s about the angiogenic activity exerted by mammalian retinal tissue extracts on the chick embryo chorioallantoic membrane and the later discovery of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) accumulation in eyes of patients with diabetic retinopathy paved the way for the development of anti-angiogenic VEGF blockers for the treatment of retinal neovascularization. Since then, numerous preclinical and clinical studies about diabetic retinopathy and other retinal disorders have opened new lines of angiogenesis inquiry, indicating that limitations to anti-VEGF therapies may exist. Moreover, the production of growth factors other than VEGF may affect the response to anti-VEGF approaches. Thus, experimental models of retinal angiogenesis remain crucial for investigating novel anti-angiogenic therapies and bringing them to patients. To this aim, in vitro and ex vivo angiogenesis assays may be suitable for a rapid screening of potential anti-angiogenic molecules before in vivo validation of the putative lead compounds. This review focuses on the different in vitro and ex vivo angiogenesis assays that have been developed over the years based on the isolation of endothelial cells from the retina of various animal species and ex vivo cultures of neonatal and adult retina explants. Also, recent observations have shown that eye neovascularization in zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryos, an in vivo animal platform experimentally analogous to in vitro/ex vivo models, may represent a novel target for the identification of angiogenesis inhibitors. When compared to in vivo assays, in vitro and ex vivo models of retina neovascularization, including zebrafish embryo, may represent cost-effective and rapid tools for the screening of novel anti-angiogenic therapeutics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)429-442
Number of pages14
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Angiogenesis
  • Endothelium
  • Retina
  • VEGF
  • Zebrafish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Physiology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Medicine(all)


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