The purpose of the current work was to utilize a three dimensional (3D) corneal epithelial tissue model to study dry eye disease and oxidative stress-related corneal epithelial injuries for the advancement of ocular therapeutics. Air-liquid interface cultures of normal human corneal epithelial cells were used to produce 3D corneal epithelial tissues appropriate for physiologically relevant exposure to environmental factors. Oxidative stress was generated by exposing the tissues to non-toxic doses of ultraviolet radiation (UV), hydrogen peroxide, vesicating agent nitrogen mustard, or desiccating conditions that stimulated morphological, cellular, and molecular changes relevant to dry eye disease. Corneal specific responses, including barrier function, tissue viability, reactive oxygen species (ROS) accumulation, lipid peroxidation, cytokine release, histology, and gene expression were evaluated. 3D corneal epithelial tissue model structurally and functionally reproduced key features of molecular responses of various types of oxidative stress-induced ocular damage. The most pronounced effects for different treatments were: UV irradiation - intracellular ROS accumulation; hydrogen peroxide exposure - barrier impairment and IL-8 release; nitrogen mustard exposure - lipid peroxidation and IL-8 release; desiccating conditions - tissue thinning, a decline in mucin expression, increased lipid peroxidation and IL-8 release. Utilizing a PCR gene array, we compared the effects of corneal epithelial damage on the expression of 84 oxidative stress-responsive genes and found specific molecular responses for each type of damage. The topical application of lubricant eye drops improved tissue morphology while decreasing lipid peroxidation and IL-8 release from tissues incubated at desiccating conditions. This model is anticipated to be a valuable tool to study molecular mechanisms of corneal epithelial damage and aid in the development of therapies against dry eye disease, oxidative stress- and vesicant-induced ocular injuries.
Keywords: 3D tissue model; 3D-HCE; Alternative to animal testing; Chemical and biological weapons; Dry eye disease; Ocular injury; Ocular toxicity; Oxidative stress.
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