Previous experiments showed that transgenic mice expressing a secreted self-activating transforming growth factor (TGF) -beta1 did not show a phenotype in the lens and cornea until postnatal day 21, when anterior subcapsular cataracts, sporadic thickening of the corneal stroma, and thinning of the corneal epithelium were noted (Srinivasan et al., 1998). To examine the effects of higher concentrations of TGF-beta1 on the lens and cornea, we constructed transgenic mice harboring the strong, lens-specific chicken betaB1-crystallin promoter driving an activated porcine TGF-beta1 gene. In contrast to the earlier study, the transgenic mice had microphthalmic eyes with closed eyelids. Already at embryonic day (E) 13.5, the future cornea of the transgenic mice was threefold thicker than that of wild-type littermates due to increased proliferation of corneal stromal mesenchyme cells. Staining of fibronectin and thrombospondin-1 was increased in periocular mesenchyme. At E17.5, the thickened transgenic corneal stroma was vascularized and densely populated by abundant star-shaped, neural cell adhesion molecule-positive cells of mesenchymal appearance surrounded by irregular swirls of collagen and extracellular matrix. The corneal endothelium, anterior chamber, and stroma of iris/ciliary body did not develop, and the transgenic cornea was opaque. Fibronectin, perlecan, and thrombospondin-1 were elevated, whereas type VI collagen decreased in the transgenic corneal stroma. Stromal mesenchyme cells expressed alpha-smooth muscle actin as did lens epithelial cells and cells of the retinal pigmented epithelium. By E17.5, lens fiber cells underwent apoptotic cell death that was followed by apoptosis of the entire anterior lens epithelium between E18.5 and birth. Posteriorly, the vitreous humor was essentially absent; however, the retina appeared relatively normal. Thus, excess TGF-beta1, a mitogen for embryonic corneal mesenchyme, severely disrupts corneal and lens differentiation. Our findings profoundly contrast with the mild eye phenotype observed with presumably lower levels of ectopic TGF-beta and illustrate the complexity of TGF-beta utilization and the importance of dose when assessing the effects of this growth factor.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.