Primary cilia maintain corneal epithelial homeostasis by regulation of the Notch signaling pathway

Development. 2016 Jun 15;143(12):2160-71. doi: 10.1242/dev.132704. Epub 2016 Apr 27.


Primary cilia have been linked to signaling pathways involved in cell proliferation, cell motility and cell polarity. Defects in ciliary function result in developmental abnormalities and multiple ciliopathies. Patients affected by severe ciliopathies, such as Meckel syndrome, present several ocular surface disease conditions of unclear pathogenesis. Here, we show that primary cilia are predominantly present on basal cells of the mouse corneal epithelium (CE) throughout development and in the adult. Conditional ablation of cilia in the CE leads to an increase in proliferation and vertical migration of basal corneal epithelial cells (CECs). A consequent increase in cell density of suprabasal layers results in a thicker than normal CE. Surprisingly, in cilia-deficient CE, cilia-mediated signaling pathways, including Hh and Wnt pathways, were not affected but the intensity of Notch signaling was severely diminished. Although Notch1 and Notch2 receptors were expressed normally, nuclear Notch1 intracellular domain (N1ICD) expression was severely reduced. Postnatal development analysis revealed that in cilia-deficient CECs downregulation of the Notch pathway precedes cell proliferation defects. Thus, we have uncovered a function of the primary cilium in maintaining homeostasis of the CE by balancing proliferation and vertical migration of basal CECs through modulation of Notch signaling.

Keywords: Cornea; Epithelium; Mouse; Notch signaling; Ocular surface; Primary cilia; Wound healing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cilia / metabolism*
  • Cilia / ultrastructure
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / ultrastructure
  • Epithelium, Corneal / metabolism*
  • Epithelium, Corneal / ultrastructure
  • Homeostasis*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Receptor, Notch1 / metabolism*
  • Receptor, Notch2 / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / metabolism
  • Wound Healing


  • Receptor, Notch1
  • Receptor, Notch2
  • Tg737Rpw protein, mouse
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins