Glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF)-induced migration and signal transduction in corneal epithelial cells

Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2001 Oct;42(11):2496-504.


Purpose: To identify signal-transduction pathways induced by glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) in corneal epithelial cells and to characterize its effect on cell migration.

Methods: Expression of GDNF receptor (GFR) alpha-1 in human corneal epithelium was detected by RT-PCR and Western blot analysis. Expression and phosphorylation of Ret, activation of focal adhesion kinase (FAK) and mitogen-associated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathways, and phosphorylation of paxillin by GDNF were investigated by immunoprecipitation and Western blot analysis in primary human corneal epithelial cells and a corneal epithelial cell line. The tyrosine kinase inhibitor herbimycin A and Ras farnesyltransferase inhibitor manumycin were used to specifically inhibit GDNF-induced signaling pathways. In vitro wound-healing assays and modified Boyden chamber analysis were performed to investigate the effect of GDNF on epithelial cell migration.

Results: Expression of GFRalpha-1 was detected in normal and transformed human corneal epithelium. GDNF induced tyrosine phosphorylation of Ret. Furthermore, tyrosine phosphorylation of FAK and phosphotyrosine kinase (Pyk) 2; serine phosphorylation of c-Raf, MEK1, and Elk 1; and tyrosine-threonine phosphorylation of Erk-1 and -2 were time-dependently activated in the presence of GDNF. Tyrosine phosphorylation of paxillin was also induced by GDNF. Migration of corneal epithelial cells was significantly stimulated by GDNF. Herbimycin A strongly inhibited the activation of Ret, FAK, c-Raf, and Erk-1 and -2; the phosphorylation of paxillin; and corneal epithelial cell migration. More specifically, the Ras inhibitor manumycin inhibited phosphorylation of c-Raf, MEK 1, Erk-1 and -2, and Elk 1, but not that of FAK.

Conclusions: Corneal epithelial cells express receptors specific for GDNF that are used by GDNF to induce intracellular signaling. FAK and MAPK pathways seem to be activated by GDNF to modulate gene transcription and cell migration. FAK seems to be an upstream regulator of the MAPK cascade for GDNF signal transduction. As an inducer of FAK-dependent corneal epithelial migration, GDNF may play an important role in corneal regeneration and wound healing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Movement / drug effects*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cornea / cytology*
  • Cornea / metabolism
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / metabolism
  • Drosophila Proteins*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology*
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Focal Adhesion Kinase 1
  • Focal Adhesion Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Receptors
  • Humans
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Nerve Growth Factors*
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / pharmacology*
  • Paxillin
  • Phosphoproteins / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ret
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Tyrosine / metabolism


  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • GDNF protein, human
  • GFRA1 protein, human
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Receptors
  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • PXN protein, human
  • Paxillin
  • Phosphoproteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Tyrosine
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ret
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Ret protein, Drosophila
  • Focal Adhesion Kinase 1
  • Focal Adhesion Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • PTK2 protein, human
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases