The purpose of this study was to identify the transporter mediating l-arginine transport at the inner blood-retinal barrier (BRB). The apparent uptake clearance of [3H]l-arginine into the rat retina was found to be 118 μL/(min·g retina), supporting a carrier-mediated influx transport of l-arginine at the BRB. [3H]l-Arginine uptake by a conditionally immortalized rat retinal capillary endothelial cell line (TR-iBRB2 cells), used as an in vitro model of the inner BRB, was primarily an Na +-independent and saturable process with Michaelis-Menten constants of 11.2 μM and 530 μM. This process was inhibited by rat cationic amino acid transporter (CAT) 1-specific small interfering RNA as well as substrates of CATs, l-arginine, l-lysine, and l-ornithine. The expression of cationic amino acid transporter (CAT) 1 mRNA was 25.9- and 796-fold greater than that of CAT3 in TR-iBRB2 and magnetically isolated rat retinal vascular endothelial cells, respectively. The expression of CAT1 protein was detected in TR-iBRB2 cells and immunostaining of CAT1 was observed along the rat retinal capillaries. In conclusion, CAT1 is localized in retinal capillary endothelial cells and at least in part mediates l-arginine transport at the inner BRB. This process seems to be closely involved in visual functions by supplying precursors of biologically important molecules like nitric oxide in the neural retina.
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