PURPOSE: To examine whether Nrf2-regulated antioxidant defense and p53 are activated in human corneal endothelial cells (CEnCs) by environmental levels of ultraviolet A (UV-A), a known stimulator of oxidative stress.
METHODS: Immortalized human CEnCs (HCEnCi) were exposed to UV-A fluences of 2.5, 5, 10, or 25 J/cm2, then allowed to recover for 3 to 24 hours. Control HCEnCi did not receive UV-A. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) were measured using H2DCFDA. Cell cytotoxicity was evaluated by lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) release. Levels of Nrf2, HO-1, NQO-1, p53, and caspase3 were detected by immunnoblotting or real-time PCR. Activated caspase3 was measured by immunoblotting and a fluorescence assay.
RESULTS: Exposure of HCEnCi to 5, 10, and 25 J/cm2 UV-A increased ROS levels compared with controls. Nrf2, HO-1, and NQO-1 mRNA increased 1.7- to 3.2-fold at 3 and 6 hours after irradiation with 2.5 and 5 J/cm2 UV-A. At 6 hours post irradiation, UV-A (5 J/cm2) enhanced nuclear Nrf2 translocation. At 24 hours post treatment, UV-A (5, 10, and 25 J/cm2) produced a 1.8- to 2.8-fold increase in phospho-p53 and a 2.6- to 6.0-fold increase in activated caspase3 compared with controls, resulting in 20% to 42% cell death.
CONCLUSIONS: Lower fluences of UV-A induce Nrf2-regulated antioxidant defense and higher fluences activate p53 and caspase3, indicating that even near-environmental levels of UV-A may affect normal CEnCs. This data suggest that UV-A may especially damage cells deficient in antioxidant defense, and thus may be involved in the etiology of Fuchs' endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD).