Purpose: This study was conducted to determine whether intrastromal injection of adenoviral construct could be used to transfect corneal stroma cells effectively in vivo and to determine whether a tissue-specific promoter could be used to express exogenous genes in keratocytes.
Methods: An adenoviral construct with a cytomegalovirus (pCMV)-driven enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) reporter gene was injected into the stroma of murine corneas. In vivo expression was quantitated and samples were analyzed by in vivo stereomicroscopy, and ex vivo expression was determined by confocal three dimensional (3-D) reconstruction. The 3.2-kb keratocan promoter was used to drive tissue-specific reporter gene expression in vivo.
Results: EGFP expression was first detected in vivo 11 hours after injection of adeno-EGFP in the corneal stroma, with a duration of approximately 3 weeks. Ex vivo wholemount cornea confocal analysis with 3-D reconstruction allowed visualization of EGFP expression in corneal stroma cells, to accurately assess cellular architecture and distribution in the corneal stroma. Naked pCMV-EGFP plasmid DNA did not express the reporter gene to the levels of the adeno-EGFP. The 3.2-kb keratocan promoter was capable of driving EGFP tissue-specific expression in the cornea.
Conclusions: Intrastromal injection of adenovirus packaged DNA constructs is a rapid and efficient way to deliver and express genes in the corneal stroma. Intrastromal injection is also capable of delivering tissue-specific promoter constructs to the corneal stroma for gene expression. Furthermore, 3-D reconstruction provides a powerful tool for enhanced visualization of the corneal stroma environment and cellular biology.