Purpose: To elucidate biological processes underlying the keratocyte, fibroblast, and myofibroblast phenotypes of corneal stromal cells, the gene expression patterns of these primary cultures from mouse cornea were compared with those of the adult and 10-day postnatal mouse cornea.
Methods: Murine Genome_U74Av2 arrays (Affymetrix Inc., Santa Clara, CA) were used to elucidate gene expression patterns of adult and postnatal day-10 corneal stroma, keratocytes, fibroblasts, and myofibroblasts.
Results: Mobilization of stromal cells by culturing led to a wound-healing cascade in which specific extracellular matrix and cornea-transparency-related genes were turned off, and a repertoire of macrophage genes were switched on. Thus, novel transparency-related crystallins detected in the corneal gene expression patterns were downregulated in culture, whereas macrophage genes, mannose receptor type-1, Cd68, serum amyloid-A3, chemokine ligands (Ccl2, Ccl7, Ccl9), lipocalin-2, and matrix metalloproteinase-3 and -12 of innate immunity were induced in primary keratocyte cultures. Fibroblasts expressed the growth-related genes lymphocyte antigen 6 complex locus-A and preprokephalin-1, and myofibroblasts expressed annexin-A8, WNT1-inducible signaling pathway protein-1, arginosuccinate synthetase-1, and procollagen XI of late-stage wound healing.
Conclusions: The emergent biological process suggests a dual role for resident stromal keratocytes in the avascular cornea: one of cornea maintenance, which involves synthesis of proteins related to the extracellular matrix and corneal transparency, and a second of barrier protection macrophage functions, which are switched on during corneal infection and injury.