Semaphorin3A induces nerve regeneration in the adult cornea-a switch from its repulsive role in development

PLoS One. 2018 Jan 25;13(1):e0191962. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0191962. eCollection 2018.


The peripheral sensory nerves that innervate the cornea can be easily damaged by trauma, surgery, infection or diabetes. Several growth factors and axon guidance molecules, such as Semaphorin3A (Sema3A) are upregulated upon cornea injury. Nerves can regenerate after injury but do not recover their original density and patterning. Sema3A is a well known axon guidance and growth cone repellent protein during development, however its role in adult cornea nerve regeneration remains undetermined. Here we investigated the neuro-regenerative potential of Sema3A on adult peripheral nervous system neurons such as those that innervate the cornea. First, we examined the gene expression profile of the Semaphorin class 3 family members and found that all are expressed in the cornea. However, upon cornea injury there is a fast increase in Sema3A expression. We then corroborated that Sema3A totally abolished the growth promoting effect of nerve growth factor (NGF) on embryonic neurons and observed signs of growth cone collapse and axonal retraction after 30 min of Sema3A addition. However, in adult isolated trigeminal ganglia or dorsal root ganglia neurons, Sema3A did not inhibited the NGF-induced neuronal growth. Furthermore, adult neurons treated with Sema3A alone produced similar neuronal growth to cells treated with NGF and the length of the neurites and branching was comparable between both treatments. These effects were replicated in vivo, where thy1-YFP neurofluorescent mice subjected to cornea epithelium debridement and receiving intrastromal pellet implantation containing Sema3A showed increased corneal nerve regeneration than those receiving pellets with vehicle. In adult PNS neurons, Sema3A is a potent inducer of neuronal growth in vitro and cornea nerve regeneration in vivo. Our data indicates a functional switch for the role of Sema3A in PNS neurons where the well-described repulsive role during development changes to a growth promoting effect during adulthood. The high expression of Sema3A in the normal and injured adult corneas could be related to its role as a growth factor.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Epithelium, Corneal / drug effects
  • Epithelium, Corneal / injuries
  • Epithelium, Corneal / metabolism
  • Ganglia, Spinal / cytology
  • Ganglia, Spinal / drug effects
  • Growth Cones / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Nerve Regeneration / drug effects*
  • Semaphorin-3A / pharmacology*
  • Trigeminal Nerve / cytology
  • Trigeminal Nerve / drug effects


  • Semaphorin-3A