Purpose: We hypothesize that growth factors, including epidermal growth factor (EGF) and bovine pituitary extract (BPE), induce proliferation, but not differentiation (e.g., lipid accumulation), of human meibomian gland epithelial cells. We also hypothesize that these actions involve a significant upregulation of genes linked to cell cycle processes, and a significant downregulation of genes associated with differentiation. Our objective was to test these hypotheses.
Methods: Immortalized human meibomian gland and conjunctival epithelial cells were cultured for varying time periods in the presence or absence of EGF, BPE, EGF + BPE, or serum, followed by cell counting, neutral lipid staining, or RNA isolation for molecular biological procedures.
Results: Our studies show that growth factors stimulate a significant, time-dependent proliferation of human meibomian gland epithelial cells. These effects are associated with a significant upregulation of genes linked to cell cycle, DNA replication, ribosomes, and translation, and a significant decrease in those related to cell differentiation, tissue development, lipid metabolic processes, and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor signaling. Serum-induced differentiation, but not growth factor-related proliferation, elicits a pronounced lipid accumulation in human meibomian gland epithelial cells. This lipogenic response is unique, and is not duplicated by human conjunctival epithelial cells.
Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that EGF and BPE stimulate human meibomian gland epithelial cells to proliferate. Further, our findings show that action is associated with an upregulation of cell cycle and translation ontologies, and a downregulation of genetic pathways linked to differentiation and lipid biosynthesis.