Purpose: We compared the cellular phenotypes and studied the role of autophagy in the pathogenesis of Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD) using two α2 collagen VIII (Col8a2) knock-in mouse models and human FECD tissues.
Methods: In vivo corneal endothelial cell (CEC) counts and morphology were analyzed by clinical confocal microscopy. Ultrastructural analysis of CECs was performed by transmission electron microscopy. Real-time PCR and Western blotting were performed using total RNA, and protein extracted from mouse CECs and human CECs obtained from FECD and autopsy patients.
Results: Both Col8a2 mouse models exhibited hallmarks of FECD; however, the Col8a2(L450W/L450W) mice exhibited a milder phenotype compared to the Col8a2(Q455K/Q455K) mice. Both models exhibited upregulation of the unfolded protein response (UPR) as evidenced by dilated rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER), and upregulation of UPR-associated genes and proteins. Real-time PCR of Col8a2(L450W/L450W) and Col8a2(Q455K/Q455K) CECs at 40 weeks revealed a 2.1-fold (P < 0.05) and a 5.2-fold (P < 0.01) upregulation of the autophagy marker Dram1, respectively. Real-time PCR of human FECD endothelium revealed a 10.4-fold upregulation of DRAM1 (P < 0.0001) compared to autopsy controls.
Conclusions: The Col8a2(L450W/L450W) and Col8a2(Q455K/Q455K) mouse models of FECD showed distinct endothelial cell phenotypes. Dram1 was associated with activation of the UPR and increased autophagy. Overexpression of this gene in mouse and human FECD endothelial cells suggested a role for altered autophagy in this disease.