Purpose: To evaluate the role of the sodium bicarbonate cotransporter (NBCe1) as a component of the corneal endothelial pump in the in vivo rabbit eye.
Methods: Lentiviruses with NBCe1 shRNA and GFP expression cassettes were injected intracamerally. Knockdown efficacy was determined 1 week to 4 weeks later by immunofluorescence, Western blot analysis, and PCR. Functional effects were monitored by corneal thickness (CT) and brinzolamide sensitivity.
Results: Within 24 hours there was a modest anterior chamber inflammation that resolved within 48 hours. At 4 × 10(6) IFU, more than 95% of the corneal endothelial surface showed GFP fluorescence above background within 7 days. At 14 to 21 days, signs of anterior chamber inflammation reemerged, and endothelial cell GFP fluorescence disappeared within 40 days after injection. The second phase of inflammation could be avoided by using GFP-less viruses. There was no significant difference in CT between scrambled sequence and NBCe1 shRNA-injected eyes over 3 weeks. Two drops of 1% brinzolamide produced 7.85% ± 3.3% corneal swelling within 5 hours of topical instillation. However, in corneas showing more than 25% NBCe1 knockdown (30 of 42 rabbits; 59% ± 15% knockdown), corneal swelling was significantly higher (10.1% ± 2.9%) relative to control eyes.
Conclusions: FIV-based lentiviral vectors can transfect CE with shRNA in rabbits. The response to GFP is consistent, with previous studies showing the production of anti-GFP antibodies. Partial knockdown of NBCe1 did not affect baseline CT, which is consistent with the corneal endothelium having a substantial functional reserve. Provocative testing using, brinzolamide, however, revealed an underlying deficiency, confirming the importance of NBCe1 bicarbonate transport and demonstrating the concerted action between NBCe1 and carbonic anhydrases.