Corneal wound healing involves communication between the different cell types that constitute the three cellular layers of the cornea (epithelium, stroma and endothelium), a process ensured in part by a category of extracellular vesicles called exosomes. In the present study, we isolated exosomes released by primary cultured human corneal epithelial cells (hCECs), corneal fibroblasts (hCFs) and corneal endothelial cells (hCEnCs) and determined whether they have wound healing characteristics of their own and to which point they modify the genetic and proteomic pattern of these cell types. Exosomes released by all three cell types significantly accelerated wound closure of scratch-wounded hCECs in vitro compared to controls (without exosomes). Profiling of activated kinases revealed that exosomes from human corneal cells caused the activation of signal transduction mediators that belong to the HSP27, STAT, β-catenin, GSK-3β and p38 pathways. Most of all, data from gene profiling analyses indicated that exosomes, irrespective of their cellular origin, alter a restricted subset of genes that are completely different between each targeted cell type (hCECs, hCFS, hCEnCs). Analysis of the genes specifically differentially regulated for a given cell-type in the microarray data using the Ingenuity Pathway Analysis (IPA) software revealed that the mean gene expression profile of hCECs cultured in the presence of exosomes would likely promote cell proliferation and migration whereas it would reduce differentiation when compared to control cells. Collectively, our findings represent a conceptual advance in understanding the mechanisms of corneal wound repair that may ultimately open new avenues for the development of novel therapeutic approaches to improve closure of corneal wounds.
Keywords: cornea; corneal endothelial cells; corneal epithelial cells; corneal stromal fibroblasts; exosomes; extracellular vesicles; signal transduction pathway; wound healing.