Purpose: To identify RNA missplicing events in human corneal endothelial tissue isolated from Fuchs' endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD).
Methods: Total RNA was isolated and sequenced from corneal endothelial tissue obtained during keratoplasty from 12 patients with FECD and 4 patients undergoing keratoplasty or enucleation for other indications. The length of the trinucleotide repeat (TNR) CTG in the transcription factor 4 (TCF4) gene was determined using leukocyte-derived DNA analyzed by a combination of Southern blotting and Genescan analysis. Commercial statistical software was used to quantify expression of alternatively spliced genes. Validation of selected alternative splicing events was performed by using RT-PCR. Gene sets identified were analyzed for overrepresentation using Web-based analysis system.
Results: Corneal endothelial tissue from FECD patients containing a CTG TNR expansion sequence in the TCF4 gene revealed widespread changes in mRNA splicing, including a novel splicing event involving FGFR2. Differential splicing of NUMA1, PPFIBP1, MBNL1, and MBNL2 transcripts were identified in all FECD samples containing a TNR expansion. The differentially spliced genes were enriched for products that localize to the cell cortex and bind cytoskeletal and cell adhesion proteins.
Conclusions: Corneal endothelium from FECD patients harbors a unique signature of mis-splicing events due to CTG TNR expansion in the TCF4 gene, consistent with the hypothesis that RNA toxicity contributes to the pathogenesis of FECD. Changes to the endothelial barrier function, a known event in the development of FECD, was identified as a key biological process influenced by the missplicing events.