The transformation of quiescent keratocytes to activated fibroblasts and myofibroblasts (KFM transformation) largely depends on transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ) signaling. Initiation of the TGFβ signaling cascade results from binding of TGFβ to the labile type I TGFβ receptor (TGFβRI), which is stabilized by the 90 kDa heat shock protein (Hsp90). Since myofibroblast persistence within the corneal stroma can result in stromal haze and corneal fibrosis in patients undergoing keratorefractive therapy, modulation of TGFβ signaling through Hsp90 inhibition would represent a novel approach to prevent myofibroblast persistence. In vitro, rabbit corneal fibroblasts (RCFs) or stratified immortalized human corneal epithelial cells (hTCEpi) were treated with a Hsp90 inhibitor (17AAG) in the presence/absence of TGFβ1. RCFs were cultured either on tissue culture plastic, anisotropically patterned substrates, and hydrogels of varying stiffness. Cellular responses to both cytoactive and variable substrates were assessed by morphologic changes to the cells, and alterations in expression patterns of key keratocyte and myofibroblast proteins using PCR, Western blotting and immunocytochemistry. Transepithelial electrical resistance (TEER) measurements were performed to establish epithelial barrier integrity. In vivo, the corneas of New Zealand White rabbits were wounded by phototherapeutic keratectomy (PTK) and treated with 17AAG (3× or 6× daily) either immediately or 7 days after wounding for 28 days. Rabbits underwent clinical ophthalmic examinations, SPOTS scoring and advanced imaging on days 0, 1, 3, 7, 10, 14, 21 and 28. On day 28, rabbits were euthanized and histopathology/immunohistochemistry was performed. In vitro data demonstrated that 17AAG inhibited KFM transformation with the de-differentiation of spindle shaped myofibroblasts to dendritic keratocyte-like cells accompanied by significant upregulation of corneal crystallins and suppression of myofibroblast markers regardless of TGFβ1 treatment. RCFs cultured on soft hydrogels or patterned substrates exhibited elevated expression of α-smooth muscle actin (αSMA) in the presence of 17AAG. Treatment of hTCEpi cells disrupted zonula occludens 1 (ZO-1) adherens junction formation. In vivo, there were no differences detected in nearly all clinical parameters assessed between treatment groups. However, rabbits treated with 17AAG developed greater stromal haze formation compared with controls, irrespective of frequency of administration. Lastly, there was increased αSMA positive myofibroblasts in the stroma of 17AAG treated animals when compared with controls. Hsp90 inhibition promoted reversion of the myofibroblast to keratocyte phenotype, although this only occurred on rigid substrates. By contrast, in vivo Hsp90 inhibition was detrimental to corneal wound healing likely due to impairment in corneal epithelial closure and barrier function restoration. Collectively, our data demonstrated a strong interplay in vitro between biophysical cues and soluble signaling molecules in determining corneal stromal cell phenotype.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sensory Systems
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience