Purpose: Keratoconus is characterized by thinning and scarring of the central portion of the cornea. This study was performed on keratoconus corneas to examine the expression of proteins related to wound healing including vimentin, an intermediate filament protein, and tenascin, and extracellular matrix protein. The expression of stress-related cytokines, heat shock proteins and ubiquitin was also investigated.
Methods: Corneal buttons were collected from patients with keratoconus, normal subjects and patients with other corneal diseases such as pseudophakic bullous keratopathy. Immunofluorescence staining was performed on frozen sections for vimentin and tenascin, and immunoperoxidase staining was carried out on paraffin sections for cytokines, heat shock proteins and ubiquitin.
Results: To varying degrees, all proteins examined, except tenascin and heat shock protein 90, were found to be expressed in normal human corneas. The expression of vimentin, tenascin, transforming growth factor-beta, interleukin-1, heat shock protein 27, and ubiquitin was enhanced in keratoconus corneas. A similar enhancement however was also observed in other diseased corneas.
Conclusions: Altered expression of several wound healing or stress-related proteins was noted in keratoconus corneas. The alterations appear to be nonspecific injury or wound responses in association with corneal diseases.