Corneal transplantation is the most common form of grafting performed worldwide. Corneal endothelial cells (EC) form a monolayer in the posterior portion of the cornea and are essential for corneal transparency. EC loss during storage before transplantation is a principal reason for rendering donor tissue unsuitable for transplantation, and apoptosis has been shown to be the major contributor to EC loss during storage and after transplantation. Therefore, the potential use of anti-apoptotic gene therapy to promote both graft storage and graft survival is of major interest. The goal of this study was to transduce human donor corneas in vitro to enhance EC survival during storage conditions used in eye banking. We utilized a lentiviral vector to perform gene transfer of baculoviral p35 or mammalian Bcl-xL to corneal endothelium in different storage conditions utilizing a lentiviral vector. Our results show significantly enhanced survival and prolonged retention of physiological EC morphology in cells expressing either p35 or Bcl-xL. The clinical application of this technology could lead to a higher availability of donor tissue for transplantation, extend storage periods and reduce graft failure after transplantation.
Corneal grafting is the most prevalent form of transplantation. Corneal endothelial cells (ECs), which form a monolayer of the cornea with minimal proliferative potential, are pivotal for maintenance of corneal clarity. Loss of EC viability and apoptosis leads to graft failure posttransplantation and reduces the quality of donor corneas in storage, such that up to 30% do not meet selection criteria and must be discarded. The current study investigates antiapoptotic effects of transduced mammalian Bcl-x(L) and baculoviral p35 on human ECs. Multiple apoptotic cell features are observed while inducing apoptosis either via the extrinsic (death receptor) or intrinsic (mitochondrial) apoptotic pathway. Human ECs were studied under three experimental conditions: (1) as an immortalized cell line, (2) as primary cells, and (3) in an intact cornea. Interestingly, in primary EC suspensions, Bcl-x(L) was protective against apoptosis mediated via both pathways. However, p35 was significantly more protective against apoptosis mediated via the intrinsic pathway compared with Bcl-x(L). Our results provide critical insight into the role of apoptotic pathways in the maintenance of EC viability and the efficacy with which these protective proteins exert their effect. These observations could form the basis for future applications of antiapoptotic gene therapy to corneal preservation aiming to reduce both graft failure after transplantation as well as donor corneal damage during storage.
BACKGROUND: Corneal endothelium is an interesting target for in vitro gene transfer strategies as it is readily accessible thanks to its anatomic structure as a monolayer and its direct contact to culture medium. Whereas the use of adenoviruses as viral vectors (carriers) to endothelial cells (EC) has been described as problematic as to its immunogenicity, lentiviruses and adeno-associated viruses (AAV) are potent vectors for the transfer of genetic DNA into EC. Lentiviral vectors, developed on the basis of HI-viruses, can integrate the transferred gene into the host DNA and thus lead to a permanent protein expression. Evaluating apathogen alternatives to lentiviral vectors for humans, we herein compared non-integrating AAV to lentiviral gene transfer.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: A comparison was made of the kinetics of expression of a green fluorescent protein after transduction using a lentiviral vector and AAV 2 / 2 in a murine EC line, human EC line and human primary cells (flow cytometry). A proof of principle experiment was conducted to demonstrate the function after lentiviral gene transfer of the anti-apoptotic gene Bcl-xL.
RESULTS: The kinetics of protein expression after transduction of EC using a lentiviral or an AAV vector show fundamental differences. Contrary to gene transfer using AAV, a high expression of the reporter protein was readily detectable only hours after transduction using the lentiral vector. In addition, we could demonstrate distinct differences in protein expression characteristics between human and murine EC as well as human EC line and primary human EC. Function could be demonstrated by showing a significant reduction in apoptosis in both murine and human EC.
CONCLUSION: AAV vectors are an alternative to lentiviral vectors for gene transfer to corneal EC. Given a cultivation time of donor corneas of up to 4 weeks before transplantation, translation to eye banking, e. g., to decrease apoptosis in corneal allografts, is conceivable.
PURPOSE: To study the density and morphologic characteristics of epithelial dendritic cells, as correlated to subbasal corneal nerve alterations in acute infectious keratitis (IK) by in vivo confocal microscopy (IVCM).
METHODS: IVCM of the central cornea was performed prospectively in 53 eyes with acute bacterial (n = 23), fungal (n = 13), and Acanthamoeba (n = 17) keratitis, and in 20 normal eyes, by using laser in vivo confocal microscopy. Density and morphology of dendritic-shaped cells (DCs) of the central cornea, corneal nerve density, nerve numbers, branching, and tortuosity were assessed and correlated. It should be noted that due to the "in vivo" nature of the study, the exact identity of these DCs cannot be specified, as they could be monocytes or tissue macrophages, but most likely dendritic cells.
RESULTS: IVCM revealed the presence of central corneal DCs in all patients and controls. The mean DC density was significantly higher in patients with bacterial (441.1 ± 320.5 cells/mm(2); P < 0.0001), fungal (608.9 ± 812.5 cells/mm(2); P < 0.0001), and Acanthamoeba keratitis (1000.2 ± 1090.3 cells/mm(2); P < 0.0001) compared with controls (49.3 ± 39.6 cells/mm(2)). DCs had an increased size and dendrites in patients with IK. Corneal nerves were significantly reduced in eyes with IK compared with controls across all subgroups, including nerve density (674.2 ± 976.1 vs. 3913.9 ± 507.4 μm/frame), total nerve numbers (2.7 ± 3.9 vs. 20.2 ± 3.3), main trunks (1.5 ± 2.2 vs. 6.9 ± 1.1), and branching (1.2 ± 2.0 vs. 13.5 ± 3.1; P < 0.0001). A strong association between the diminishment of corneal nerves and the increase of DC density was observed (r = -0.44; P < 0.0005).
CONCLUSIONS: IVCM reveals an increased density and morphologic changes of central epithelial DCs in infectious keratitis. There is a strong and significant correlation between the increase in DC numbers and the decreased subbasal corneal nerves, suggesting a potential interaction between the immune and nervous system in the cornea.
PURPOSE: This study compared susceptibility of Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD) and normal corneal endothelial cells (CECs) to oxidative stress, and studied the mechanism of oxidative-stress-induced apoptosis in FECD-affected endothelium.
METHODS: For in vitro studies, immortalized normal and FECD human corneal endothelial cell lines (HCECi and FECDi, respectively) were exposed to tert-butyl hydroperoxide (tBHP). Apoptotic cell populations were distinguished using flow cytometry. Reactive oxygen species production was measured by a horseradish peroxidase assay. For ex vivo studies, CECs were exposed to tBHP. Oxidative DNA damage and apoptosis were assessed by anti-8-hydroxydeoxyguanosine antibody and TUNEL assay, respectively. p53 and phospho-p53 levels were assessed by Western blot and immunohistochemistry.
RESULTS: Flow cytometry revealed a higher rate of apoptosis in FECDi than that in HCECi after exposure to 0.5 mM (P=0.010) and 1.0 mM tBHP (P=0.041). Further analysis showed increased production of H2O2 by FECDi than that by HCECi. Oxidative DNA damage increased in both normal and FECD CECs after exposure to 0.5 mM tBHP (P=0.031 and 0.022, respectively), leading to a 21% increase in TUNEL-positive CECs in FECD (P=0.015) but no change in normal. Baseline p53 expression was twofold higher in FECD than that in normal endothelium (P=0.002). Immunofluorescence revealed an increase in p53 and phospho-p53 levels in FECD compared with that in normal endothelium.
CONCLUSIONS: FECD CECs are more susceptible to oxidative DNA damage and oxidative-stress-induced apoptosis than normal. Increased activation of p53 in FECD suggests that it mediates cell death in susceptible CECs. The authors conclude that p53 plays a critical role in complex mechanisms regulating oxidative-stress-induced apoptosis in FECD.