Background: Pterygium is a relatively common eye disease in the tropics whose aetiology and pathogenesis remain uncertain. As such, interest has focused on understanding the underlying mechanism of pterygia development.
Methods: 15 specimens of pterygia from 15 eyes were examined, together with normal conjunctival tissue from the same eyes for the pattern of gene expression of genes associated with the induction or repression of apoptosis (p53, bcl-2, and bax). In addition, the samples directly for apoptotic cells were examined by the terminal deoxynucleotide transferase (TdT) mediated nick end labelling (TUNEL) methodology.
Results: In pterygia specimens apoptotic cells were found mainly confined to the basal layer of cells of the epithelial layer, situated immediately adjacent to the fibrovascular support layer. These cells were shown to express significant levels of p53 and bax, as well as the apoptosis inhibiting protein bcl-2. In contrast, normal conjunctival specimens displayed no bcl-2 expression and apoptotic cells were seen throughout the entire width of the epithelial layer, coupled with high levels of bax expression.
Conclusion: These results support a model whereby pterygia development is a result of disruption of the normal process of apoptosis occurring in the conjunctiva.