Age-related dystrophic changes in corneal endothelium from DNA repair-deficient mice

Aging Cell. 2013 Dec;12(6):1122-31. doi: 10.1111/acel.12143. Epub 2013 Sep 1.


The corneal endothelium (CE) is a single layer of cells lining the posterior face of the cornea providing metabolic functions essential for maintenance of corneal transparency. Adult CE cells lack regenerative potential, and the number of CE cells decreases throughout life. To determine whether endogenous DNA damage contributes to the age-related spontaneous loss of CE, we characterized CE in Ercc1(-/Δ) mice, which have impaired capacity to repair DNA damage and age prematurely. Eyes from 4.5- to 6-month-old Ercc1(-/Δ) mice, age-matched wild-type (WT) littermates, and old WT mice (24- to 34-month-old) were compared by spectral domain optical coherence tomography and corneal confocal microscopy. Histopathological changes in CE were further identified in paraffin tissue sections, whole-mount immunostaining, and scanning electron and transmission electron microscopy. The CE of old WT mice displayed polymorphism and polymegathism, polyploidy, decreased cell density, increased cell size, increases in Descemet's thickness, and the presence of posterior projections originating from the CE toward the anterior chamber, similar to changes documented for aging human corneas. Similar changes were observed in young adult Ercc1(-/Δ) mice CE, demonstrating spontaneous premature aging of the CE of these DNA repair-deficient mice. CD45(+) immune cells were associated with the posterior surface of CE from Ercc1(-/Δ) mice and the tissue expressed increased IL-1α, Cxcl2, and TNFα, pro-inflammatory proteins associated with senescence-associated secretory phenotype. These data provide strong experimental evidence that DNA damage can promote aging of the CE and that Ercc1(-/Δ) mice offer a rapid and accurate model to study CE pathogenesis and therapy.

Keywords: DNA repair; aging; cornea; corneal endothelium; genotoxic stress; progeria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Count
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Corneal Diseases / metabolism*
  • Corneal Diseases / pathology*
  • DNA Repair*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / deficiency
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Descemet Membrane / metabolism
  • Descemet Membrane / pathology
  • Descemet Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Endonucleases / deficiency
  • Endonucleases / metabolism
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Endothelial Cells / pathology
  • Endothelial Cells / ultrastructure
  • Endothelium, Corneal / growth & development
  • Endothelium, Corneal / metabolism*
  • Endothelium, Corneal / pathology*
  • Endothelium, Corneal / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Phenotype


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Collagen
  • Endonucleases
  • Ercc1 protein, mouse
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens