The phrase "corneal endothelial dystrophies" embraces a group of bilateral corneal conditions that are characterized by a non-inflammatory and progressive degradation of corneal endothelium. Corneal endothelial cells exhibit a high pump site density and, along with barrier function, are responsible for maintaining the cornea in its natural state of relative dehydration. Gradual loss of endothelial cells leads to an insufficient water outflow, resulting in corneal edema and loss of vision. Since the pathologic mechanisms remain largely unknown, the only current treatment option is surgical transplantation when vision is severely impaired. In the past decade, important steps have been taken to understand how endothelial degeneration progresses on the molecular level. Studies of affected multigenerational families and sporadic cases identified genes and chromosomal loci, and revealed either Mendelian or complex disorder inheritance patterns. Mutations have been detected in genes that carry important structural, metabolic, cytoprotective, and regulatory functions in corneal endothelium. In addition to genetic predisposition, environmental factors like oxidative stress were found to be involved in the pathogenesis of endotheliopathies. This review summarizes and crosslinks the recent progress on deciphering the molecular bases of corneal endothelial dystrophies.
PURPOSE: To describe the methods for family and case-control recruitment for a multicenter genetic and associated heritability analyses of Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD).
METHODS: Twenty-nine enrolling sites with 62 trained investigators and coordinators gathered individual and family information, graded the phenotype, and collected blood and/or saliva for genetic analysis on all individuals with and without FECD. The degree of FECD was assessed in a 0 to 6 semiquantitative scale using standardized clinical methods with pathological verification of FECD on at least 1 member of each family. Central corneal thickness was measured by ultrasonic pachymetry.
RESULTS: Three hundred twenty-two families with 330 affected sibling pairs with FECD were enrolled and included a total of 650 sibling pairs of all disease grades. Using the entire 7-step FECD grading scale or a dichotomous definition of severe disease, heritability was assessed in families via sib-sib correlations. Both binary indicators of severe disease and semiquantitative measures of disease severity were significantly heritable, with heritability estimates of 30% for severe disease, 37% to 39% for FECD score, and 47% for central corneal thickness.
CONCLUSIONS: Genetic risk factors have a strong role in the severity of the FECD phenotype and corneal thickness. Genotyping this cohort with high-density genetic markers followed by appropriate statistical analyses should lead to novel loci for disease susceptibility.
Fuchs corneal dystrophy (FCD) is a genetic disorder of the corneal endothelium and is the most common cause of corneal transplantation in the United States. Previously, we mapped a late-onset FCD locus, FCD2, on chromosome 18q. Here, we present next-generation sequencing of all coding exons in the FCD2 critical interval in a multigenerational pedigree in which FCD segregates as an autosomal-dominant trait. We identified a missense change in LOXHD1, a gene causing progressive hearing loss in humans, as the sole variant capable of explaining the phenotype in this pedigree. We observed LOXHD1 mRNA in cultured human corneal endothelial cells, whereas antibody staining of both human and mouse corneas showed staining in the corneal epithelium and endothelium. Corneal sections of the original proband were stained for LOXHD1 and demonstrated a distinct increase in antibody punctate staining in the endothelium and Descemet membrane; punctate staining was absent from both normal corneas and FCD corneas negative for causal LOXHD1 mutations. Subsequent interrogation of a cohort of >200 sporadic affected individuals identified another 15 heterozygous missense mutations that were absent from >800 control chromosomes. Furthermore, in silico analyses predicted that these mutations reside on the surface of the protein and are likely to affect the protein's interface and protein-protein interactions. Finally, expression of the familial LOXHD1 mutant allele as well as two sporadic mutations in cells revealed prominent cytoplasmic aggregates reminiscent of the corneal phenotype. All together, our data implicate rare alleles in LOXHD1 in the pathogenesis of FCD and highlight how different mutations in the same locus can potentially produce diverse phenotypes.
OBJECTIVE: To define the relationship between Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD) severity and central corneal thickness (CCT).
METHODS: We examined 1610 eyes from a subset of index cases, family members, and unrelated control subjects with normal corneas from the FECD Genetics Multi-Center Study. To estimate the association between FECD severity grade (7-point severity scale based on guttae confluence) and CCT measured by ultrasonographic pachymetry, a multivariable model was used that adjusted for eye, age, race, sex, history of glaucoma or ocular hypertension, diabetes mellitus, contact lens wear, intraocular pressure, and familial relationship to the index case. An interaction between FECD severity grade and edema (stromal or epithelial) on slitlamp examination findings was used to investigate whether the effect of FECD severity grade on CCT differed between those with and without edema.
RESULTS: Average CCT was thicker in index cases for all FECD grades compared with unaffected controls (P ≤ .003) and in affected family members with an FECD grade of 4 or greater compared with unaffected family members (P ≤ .04). Similar results were observed for subjects without edema. Average CCT of index cases was greater than that of affected family members with grades 4, 5, and 6 FECD (P ≤ .02). Intraocular pressure was also associated with CCT (P = .01).
CONCLUSIONS: An increase in CCT occurs with increasing severity of FECD, including at lower FECD grades in which clinically observable edema is not present. Monitoring CCT changes serially could be a more sensitive measure of disease progression with surgical therapeutic implications.
Corneal transplantation with cultivated limbal or oral epithelium is a feasible treatment option for limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD). Currently utilized co-culture of stem cells with murine 3T3 feeder layer renders the epithelial constructs as xenografts. To overcome the potential risks involved with xenotransplantation, we investigated the use of human-derived feeder layers for the ex vivo expansion of epithelial (stem) cells. Human limbal and oral epithelium was co-cultured with mouse 3T3 fibroblasts, human dermal fibroblasts (DF), human mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), and with no feeder cells (NF). Cell morphology was monitored with phase-contrast microscopy, and stem cell characteristics were assessed by immunohistochemistry, real-time PCR for p63 and ABCG2, (stem cell markers), and by colony-forming efficiency (CFE) assay. Immunohistochemical analysis detected positive staining for CK3 (cornea specific marker) and Iβ1 and p63 (putative stem cell markers) in all culture conditions. The level of Iβ1 and p63 was significantly higher in both limbal and oral cells cultured on the 3T3 feeder, as compared to the MSC or NF group (p<0.01). This level was comparable to the cells cultured on DF. Expression of p63 and ABCG2 in limbal and oral epithelial cells in the 3T3 and DF groups was significantly higher than that in the MSC or NF group (p<0.01). No statistical difference was detected between 3T3 and DF groups. The CFE of both limbal and oral cells co-cultured on 3T3 fibroblasts was comparable to cells grown on DF, and was significantly higher than that of cells co-cultured with MSC or NF (p<0.01). Epithelial cells grown on a DF feeder layer maintained a stem cell-like phenotype, comparable to cells grown on a 3T3 feeder layer. In conclusion, DF provides a promising substitute for 3T3 feeder cells during cultivation of xenobiotic-free corneal equivalents.
PURPOSE: This study sought to determine factors involved in nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) regulation and their response to oxidative stress in Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD) and normal corneal endothelial cells (CECs).
METHODS: FECD corneal buttons were obtained from transplantations and normal human corneas from tissue banks. Oxidative stress was induced by tert-butyl hydroperoxide (tBHP). Protein and mRNA levels of Nrf2, DJ-1, p53, and Kelch-like ECH-associated protein1 (Keap1) were investigated using Western blotting and real-time PCR. Immunoprecipitation was used to detect levels of oxidized DJ-1 protein and Cullin 3- (Cul3)-regulated degradation of DJ-1 in immortalized FECD (FECDi) and normal CEC (HCECi) cell lines. Nrf2 subcellular localization was assessed by immunocytochemistry.
RESULTS: Nrf2 protein stabilizer, DJ-1, decreased significantly in FECD CECs compared with normal, whereas Nrf2 protein repressor, Keap1, was unchanged at baseline but increased under oxidative stress. Under oxidative stress, normal CECs upregulated DJ-1 protein synthesis, whereas FECD CECs did not. DJ-1 decline correlated with increased DJ-1 oxidative modification and carbonylation in FECDi as compared with HCECi. Increased labeling of immunoprecipitated DJ-1 protein with anti-Cul3 antibody indicated enhanced DJ-1 degradation in FECDi as compared with HCECi. Following tBHP treatment, Nrf2 translocated from cytoplasm to nuclei in normal CECs, whereas Nrf2 nuclear localization was not observed in FECD.
CONCLUSIONS: Decreased levels of DJ-1 in FECD at baseline and under oxidative stress correlate with impaired Nrf2 nuclear translocation and heightened cell susceptibility to apoptosis. Targeting the DJ-1/Nrf2 axis could yield a mechanism to slow CEC degeneration in FECD.
Human corneal endothelial cells (HCEnCs) form a monolayer of hexagonal cells whose main function is to maintain corneal clarity by regulating corneal hydration. HCEnCs are derived from neural crest and are arrested in the post-mitotic state. Thus cell loss due to aging or corneal endothelial disorders leads to corneal edema and blindness-the leading indication for corneal transplantation. Here we show the existence of morphologically distinct subpopulations of HCEnCs that are interspersed among primary cells and exhibit enhanced self-renewal competence and lack of phenotypic signs of cellular senescence. Colonies of these uniform and hexagonal HCEnCs (HCEnC-21) were selectively isolated and demonstrated high proliferative potential that was dependent on endogenous upregulation of telomerase and cyclin D/CDK4. Further transduction of HCEnC-21 with telomerase yielded a highly proliferative corneal endothelial cell line (HCEnT-21T) that was devoid of oncogenic transformation and retained critical corneal endothelial cell characteristics and functionality. This study will significantly impact the fields of corneal cell biology and regenerative medicine.