Purpose: Transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) is known to influence many cell functions. In the corneal endothelium, TGF-β1 exerts contextual effects, promoting endothelial-mesenchymal transition in proliferating cells and enhancing barrier integrity in early confluent maturing cells. Herein, we studied how TGF-β isoforms participate in the formation of corneal endothelial intercellular junctions.
Methods: Corneal endothelial cells (CECs) were cultured using a two-phase media approach. When CECs reached confluence, the proliferation medium was replaced with maturation medium, which was supplemented or not with TGF-β isoforms. The cell morphology (circularity index), intercellular junction protein expression, trans-endothelial electrical resistance (TEER), and permeability of 7-day postconfluent CECs were assessed. Gene transcription and signaling pathways that were activated following maturation in the presence of TGF-β2 were also studied. The beneficial effect of TGF-β2 on CEC maturation was evaluated using ex vivo corneas mounted on a corneal bioreactor.
Results: The results showed increases in circularity index, membrane localization of junction-related proteins, and TEER when TGF-β isoforms were individually added during the maturation phase, and TGF-β2 was the most effective isoform. Gene profiling revealed an increase in extracellular matrix-related gene expression. In ex vivo cell adhesion experiments, CECs that were matured in the presence of TGF-β2 had a higher circularity index and cell density and exhibited cell membrane-localized junction-related protein expression at earlier time points.
Conclusions: These results suggest that TGF-β2 can strengthen cell-cell and cell-substrate adhesion, which accelerates barrier integrity establishment and thus enhances CEC functionality.