Collagens and proteoglycans of the corneal extracellular matrix

Braz J Med Biol Res. 2003 Aug;36(8):1037-46. doi: 10.1590/s0100-879x2003000800009. Epub 2003 Jul 23.


The cornea is a curved and transparent structure that provides the initial focusing of a light image into the eye. It consists of a central stroma that constitutes 90% of the corneal depth, covered anteriorly with epithelium and posteriorly with endothelium. Its transparency is the result of the regular spacing of collagen fibers with remarkably uniform diameter and interfibrillar space. Corneal collagen is composed of heterotypic fibrils consisting of type I and type V collagen molecules. The cornea also contains unusually high amounts of type VI collagen, which form microfibrillar structures, FACIT collagens (XII and XIV), and other nonfibrillar collagens (XIII and XVIII). FACIT collagens and other molecules, such as leucine-rich repeat proteoglycans, play important roles in modifying the structure and function of collagen fibrils.Proteoglycans are macromolecules composed of a protein core with covalently linked glycosaminoglycan side chains. Four leucine-rich repeat proteoglycans are present in the extracellular matrix of corneal stroma: decorin, lumican, mimecan and keratocan. The first is a dermatan sulfate proteoglycan, and the other three are keratan sulfate proteoglycans. Experimental evidence indicates that the keratan sulfate proteoglycans are involved in the regulation of collagen fibril diameter, and dermatan sulfate proteoglycan participates in the control of interfibrillar spacing and in the lamellar adhesion properties of corneal collagens. Heparan sulfate proteoglycans are minor components of the cornea, and are synthesized mainly by epithelial cells. The effect of injuries on proteoglycan synthesis is discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Collagen / analysis*
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Cornea / chemistry*
  • Cornea / cytology
  • Extracellular Matrix / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Proteoglycans / analysis*
  • Proteoglycans / metabolism


  • Proteoglycans
  • Collagen