Purpose: Submucosal fibrosis due to excessive accumulation of collagens is an important histologic feature in the pathogenesis of ocular cicatricial pemphigoid (OCP). Heat shock protein 47 (HSP47), a collagen-binding protein, plays an important role in the biosynthesis of procollagens. In the present study, we examined the role of HSP47 in conjunctival scarring in patients with OCP.
Methods: Biopsy specimens of the conjunctiva of 15 patients with OCP and 5 normal subjects were studied for the expression of HSP47, transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta1, type I collagen, and type III collagen. The role of TGF-beta1 on the induction of HSP47 and type I collagen by conjunctival fibroblasts was studied by immunostaining, Western blot analysis, and quantitative real-time PCR.
Results: Compared with the control, increased accumulations of type I and type III collagens were detected by immunohistochemistry in fibrotic conjunctiva of patients with OCP. Weak and sparse expression of HSP47 was detected in the epithelial cells and stromal fibroblasts in control conjunctival tissues. In contrast to the control, the expression of HSP47 was markedly increased in the stromal fibroblasts in conjunctival tissues obtained from patients with OCP, as detected by immunohistochemistry. By quantitative real-time PCR, compared with control conjunctival tissues, a 3.4-fold increase in the expression of HSP47 was noted in the conjunctival tissues obtained from patients with OCP. Similar to conjunctival tissues, fibroblasts isolated from conjunctiva of patients with OCP exhibited 4.8-fold increase in the expression of HSP47, compared with control fibroblasts. When conjunctival fibroblasts were treated with various concentration of TGF-beta1, upregulation in the expression of HSP47 and type I collagen was detected.
Conclusions: This study demonstrated increased expression of HSP47 and TGF-beta1 by conjunctival fibroblasts in biopsy specimens obtained from patients with OCP. TGF-beta1 induced the expression of HSP47 and type I collagen by conjunctival fibroblasts. Increased levels of TGF-beta1 and HSP47 may regulate increased synthesis, assembly, and production of collagens and thereby could significantly contribute to the process of conjunctival scarring in patients with OCP.