Purpose: To elucidate the molecular events in solute carrier family 4 member 11 (SLC4A11)-deficient corneal endothelium that lead to the endothelial dysfunction that characterizes the dystrophies associated with SLC4A11 mutations, congenital hereditary endothelial dystrophy (CHED) and Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy 4.
Methods: Comparative transcriptomic analysis (CTA) was performed in primary human corneal endothelial cells (pHCEnC) and murine corneal endothelial cells (MCEnC) with normal and reduced levels of SLC4A11 (SLC4A11 KD pHCEnC) and Slc4a11 (Slc4a11-/- MCEnC), respectively. Validation of differentially expressed genes was performed using immunofluorescence staining of CHED corneal endothelium, as well as western blot and quantitative PCR analysis of SLC4A11 KD pHCEnC and Slc4a11-/- MCEnC. Functional analyses were performed to investigate potential functional changes associated with the observed transcriptomic alterations.
Results: CTA revealed inhibition of cell metabolism and ion transport function as well as mitochondrial dysfunction, leading to reduced adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production, in SLC4A11 KD pHCEnC and Slc4a11-/- MCEnC. Co-localization of SNARE protein STX17 with mitochondria marker COX4 was observed in CHED corneal endothelium, as was activation of AMPK-p53/ULK1 in both SLC4A11 KD pHCEnC and Slc4a11-/- MCEnC, providing additional evidence of mitochondrial dysfunction and mitophagy. Reduced Na+-dependent HCO3- transport activity and altered NH4Cl-induced membrane potential changes were observed in Slc4a11-/- MCEnC.
Conclusions: Reduced steady-state ATP levels and subsequent activation of the AMPK-p53 pathway provide a link between the metabolic functional deficit and transcriptome alterations, as well as evidence of insufficient ATP to maintain the Na+/K+-ATPase corneal endothelial pump as the cause of the edema that characterizes SLC4A11-associated corneal endothelial dystrophies.