Purpose: To explore the phenomenon that corneal and conjunctival tissues subjected to desiccating stress (DS) promote Th17 differentiation by stimulating the production of Th17-inducing cytokines through a dendritic cell (DC)-mediated pathway.
Methods: Experimental dry eye was created by subjecting C57BL/6 mice to desiccating environmental stress. Corneal and conjunctival explants from dry eye or control mice were cocultured with DCs for 24 hours before CD4(+) T cells were added for an additional 4 to 7 days. Expression of Th17-associated genes in the cornea, conjunctiva, DCs, and CD4(+) T cells was evaluated by real-time PCR. Cytokine concentrations in coculture supernatants were measured by immunobead assay. IL-17-producing T cells were identified by ELISPOT bioassay.
Results: Higher levels of IL-17A, TGF-beta1, TGF-beta2, IL-6, IL-23, and IL-1beta mRNA transcripts and TGF-beta1, IL-6, and IL-1beta protein were observed in corneal epithelium and conjunctiva from dry eye mice. DCs cocultured with epithelial explants from dry eye mice for 2 days produced higher levels of TGF-beta1, IL-6, IL-23, and IL-1beta mRNA transcripts and of TGF-beta1, IL-6, and IL-1beta protein. CD4(+) T cells cocultured with DCs and epithelial explants from dry eye mice expressed increased levels of IL-17A, IL-17F, IL-22, CCL-20, and retinoic acid receptor-related orphan receptor-gammat mRNA transcripts and increased IL-17A protein and number of IL-17-producing T cells (Th17 cells).
Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that DS creates an environment on the ocular surface that stimulates the production of Th17-inducing cytokines by corneal and conjunctival epithelia that promote Th17 differentiation through a dendritic cell-mediated pathway.