Transforming growth factor beta induced protein (TGFBIp, also named keratoepithelin) is an extracellular matrix protein abundant in the cornea. The purpose of this study was to determine the expression and processing of TGFBIp in the normal human cornea during postnatal development and aging. TGFBIp in corneas from individuals ranging from six months to 86 years of age was detected and quantified by immunoblotting. The level of TGFBIp in the cornea increases about 30% between 6 and 14 years of age, and adult corneas contain 0.7-0.8 microg TGFBIp per mg wet tissue. Two-dimensional (2-D) immunoblots of the corneal extracts showed a characteristic "zig-zag" pattern formed by different lower-molecular mass TGFBIp isoforms (30-60 kDa). However, the relative abundance of the different isoforms was different between infant corneas (<1 year) and the child/adult corneas (>6 years). Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization-time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS) data of TGFBIp isoforms separated on large 2-D gels show that TGFBIp is proteolytically processed from the N-terminus. This observation was supported by in silico 2-D gel electrophoresis showing that sequential proteolytical trimming events from the N-terminus of mature TGFBIp generate TGFBIp isoforms which form a similar "zig-zag" pattern when separated by 2-D polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE). This study shows that in humans TGFBIp is more abundant in mature corneas than in the developing cornea and that the processing of TGFBIp changes during postnatal development of the cornea. In addition, TGFBIp appears to be degraded in a highly orchestrated manner in the normal human cornea with the resulting C-terminal fragments being retained in the cornea. The age-related changes in the expression and processing of corneal TGFBIp suggests that TGFBIp may play a role in the postnatal development and maturation of the cornea. Furthermore, these observations may be relevant to the age at which mutant TGFBIp deposits in the cornea in those dystrophies caused by mutations in the transforming growth factor beta induced gene (TGFBI) as well as the mechanisms of corneal protein deposition.