Purpose: To determine global mRNA expression levels in corneal and conjunctival epithelia and identify transcripts that exhibit preferential tissue expression.
Methods: cDNA samples derived from human conjunctival and corneal epithelia were hybridized in three independent experiments to a commercial oligonucleotide array representing more than 22,000 transcripts. The resultant signal intensities and microarray software transcript present/absent calls were used in conjunction with the local pooled error (LPE) statistical method to identify transcripts that are preferentially or exclusively expressed in one of the two tissues at significant levels (expression >1% of the beta-actin level). EASE (Expression Analysis Systematic Explorer software) was used to identify biological systems comparatively overrepresented in either epithelium. Immuno-, and cytohistochemistry was performed to validate or expand on selected results of interest.
Results: The analysis identified 332 preferential and 93 exclusive significant corneal epithelial transcripts. The corresponding numbers of conjunctival epithelium transcripts were 592 and 211, respectively. The overrepresented biological processes in the cornea were related to cell adhesion and oxiredox equilibria and cytoprotection activities. In the conjunctiva, the biological processes that were most prominent were related to innate immunity and melanogenesis. Immunohistochemistry for antigen-presenting cells and melanocytes was consistent with these gene signatures. The transcript comparison identified a substantial number of genes that have either not been identified previously or are not known to be highly expressed in these two epithelia, including testican-1, ECM1, formin, CRTAC1, and NQO1 in the cornea and, in the conjunctiva, sPLA(2)-IIA, lipocalin 2, IGFBP3, multiple MCH class II proteins, and the Na-Pi cotransporter type IIb.
Conclusions: Comparative gene expression profiling leads to the identification of many biological processes and previously unknown genes that are potentially active in the function of corneal and conjunctival epithelia.