Background: The epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) of retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells is the most crucial step in the etiopathogenesis of proliferative vitreoretinopathy. This study aimed to investigate the role of miR-143-5p in the EMT of RPE cells induced by palmitic acid (PA).

Methods: ARPE-19 cells were treated with PA to induce EMT, followed by E-cadherin and α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) expression and the microRNA expression profile analyses. Subsequently, miR-143-5p mimics/inhibitors, and plasmids expressing its predicted target gene c-JUN-dimerization protein 2 (JDP2), were transfected in ARPE-19 cells using lipofectamine 3000, and followed by PA treatment. Their impacts on EMT were explored using wound healing and Western blot assays. Additionally, miR-143-5p mimics and JDP2-expressing plasmid were co-transfected into ARPE-19 cells and treated with PA to explore whether PA induced EMT of ARPE-19 cells via the miR-143-5p/JDP2 axis.

Results: PA decreased E-cadherin expression and increased those of α-SMA and miR-143-5p. Inhibiting miR-143-5p suppressed the migration of ARPE-19 cells and altered the expressions of E-cadherin and α-SMA. However, additional PA treatment attenuated these alterations. JDP2 was a target of miR-143-5p. Overexpression of JDP2 inhibited the EMT of ARPE-19 cells, resulting in α-SMA downregulation and E-cadherin upregulation, which were reversed by additional PA treatment via inhibiting JDP2 expression. Overexpression of miR-143-5p reversed the effect of JDP2 on the EMT of ARPE-19 cells and additional PA treatment markedly enhanced the effect of miR-143-5p mimics.

Conclusion: PA promotes EMT of ARPE-19 cells via regulating the miR-143-5p/JDP2 axis, and these findings provide significant insights into the potential targeting of this axis to treat proliferative vitreoretinopathy.