Modulation of human corneal stromal cell differentiation by hepatocyte growth factor and substratum compliance

Hidetaka Miyagi, Iman Jalilian, Christopher J Murphy, Sara M Thomasy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Corneal wound healing is a complex process that consists of cellular integration of multiple soluble biochemical cues and cellular responses to biophysical attributes associated with the matrix of the wound space. Upon corneal stromal wounding, the transformation of corneal fibroblasts to myofibroblasts is promoted by transforming growth factor-β (TGFβ). This process is critical for wound healing; however, excessive persistence of myofibroblasts in the wound space has been associated with corneal fibrosis resulting in severe vision loss. The objective of this study was to determine the effect of hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), which can modulate TGFβ signaling, on corneal myofibroblast transformation by analyzing the expression of α-smooth muscle actin (αSMA) as a marker of myofibroblast phenotype particularly as it relates to biomechanical cues. Human corneal fibroblasts were cultured on tissue culture plastic (>1 GPa) or hydrogel substrates mimicking human normal or wounded corneal stiffness (25 and 75 kPa) in media containing TGFβ1 ± HGF. The expression of αSMA was analyzed by quantitative PCR, Western blot and immunocytochemistry. Cellular stiffness, which is correlated with cellular phenotype, was measured by atomic force microscopy (AFM). In primary human corneal fibroblasts, the mRNA expression of αSMA showed a clear dose response to TGFβ1. The expression was significantly suppressed when cells were incubated with 20 ng/ml HGF in the presence of 2 ng/ml of TGFβ1. The protein expression of αSMA induced by 5 ng/ml TGFβ1 was also decreased by 20 ng/ml of HGF. Cells cultured on hydrogels mimicking human normal (25 kPa) and fibrotic (75 kPa) cornea also showed an inhibitory effect of HGF on αSMA expression in the presence or absence of TGFβ1. Cellular stiffness was decreased by HGF in the presence of TGFβ1 as measured by AFM. In this study, we have demonstrated that HGF can suppress the myofibroblast phenotype promoted by TGFβ1 in human corneal stromal cells. These data suggest that HGF holds the potential as a therapeutic agent to improve wound healing outcomes by minimizing corneal fibrosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-242
Number of pages8
JournalExperimental Eye Research
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018


  • Corneal wound healing
  • Hepatocyte growth factor
  • Myofibroblast transformation
  • Substratum compliance
  • Transforming growth factor-β
  • α-smooth muscle actin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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