Purpose: To improve our understanding of the role of specific genes on corneal transparency through a review of linkage to specific chromosomal loci and the identification of the mutant genes dealing with the corneal dystrophies.
Method: Relevant recent literature on the corneal dystrophies is reviewed.
Results: Molecular genetic studies of the corneal dystrophies suggest that genes on at least 10 human chromosomes are involved in the maintenance of corneal transparency (chromosomes 1, 5, 9, 10, 12, 16, 17, 20, 21, and X). Within the 10 chromosomes to which corneal dystrophies have been mapped, specific genetic mutations in seven genes (GSN, BIGH3, KRT3, See also pp. 687-691. KRT12, MSS1, GLA, and ARSC1) have been identified in 15 corneal dystrophies. Some corneal dystrophies that are considered distinct clinicopathologic entities are actually caused by different mutations in the same gene. For example, lattice dystrophy types I and IIIA, granular corneal dystrophy types I, II (Avellino dystrophy), and III (Reis-Bucklers dystrophy), and Thiel-Behnke corneal dystrophy are the result of mutations in BIGH3. Mutations in three genes (GSN, BIGH3, MSS1) are associated with amyloid deposition in the cornea. A gene for keratoconus has been mapped to chromosome 21, which is noteworthy because of the established association of keratoconus in Down syndrome (trisomy 21).
Conclusion: Recent genetic studies on the corneal dystrophies provide insight into some of these disorders at a basic molecular level. Some corneal dystrophies that were previously believed to be distinct clinicopathologic entities are closely related at the molecular level with the different phenotypes resulting from distinct mutations in the same gene. This new knowledge is leading to a revised classification of the corneal dystrophies and to the development of animal models of corneal dystrophies. The latter will lead to a better understanding of the pathogenesis of the disorders and hence to novel therapeutic approaches to those dystrophies that cause significant visual impairment. Research of this nature is only in its infancy.