Posterior stromal cell apoptosis triggered by mechanical endothelial injury and basement membrane component nidogen-1 production in the cornea

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This study was performed to determine whether cells in the posterior stroma undergo apoptosis in response to endothelial cell injury and to determine whether basement membrane component nidogen-1 was present in the cornea. New Zealand White rabbits had an olive tip cannula inserted into the anterior chamber to mechanically injure corneal endothelial cells over an 8 mm diameter area of central cornea with minimal injury to Descemet's membrane. At 1 h (6 rabbits) and 4 h (6 rabbits) after injury, three corneas at each time point were cryopreserved in OCT for terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick end labeling (TUNEL) assay and immunohistochemistry (IHC) for vimentin and nidogen-1, and three corneas at each time point were fixed for transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Uninjured corneas were controls. Stromal cells over approximately the posterior 25% of the stroma overlying to the site of corneal endothelial injury underwent apoptosis detected by the TUNEL assay. Many of these apoptotic cells were vimentin+, suggesting they were likely keratocytes or corneal fibroblasts. Stromal cells peripheral to the site of endothelial injury and more anterior stromal cells overlying the site of endothelial injury did not undergo apoptosis. Stromal cell death was confirmed to be apoptosis by TEM. No apoptosis of stromal cells was detected in control, uninjured corneas. Nidogen-1 was detected in the stroma of unwounded corneas, with higher nidogen-1 in the posterior stroma than the anterior stroma. After endothelial scrape injury, concentrations of nidogen-1 appeared to be in the extracellular matrix of the posterior stroma and, possibly, within apoptotic bodies of stromal cells. Thus, posterior stromal cells, likely including keratocytes, undergo apoptosis in response to corneal endothelial injury, analogous to anterior keratocytes undergoing apoptosis in response to epithelial injury.HIGHLIGHTSOverlying keratocytes undergo apoptosis following mechanical injury to corneal endothelial cells in rabbits.The epithelial basement membrane and Descemet's basement membrane have high concentrations of nidogen-1 in rabbits.There is higher nidogen-1 in keratocytes and extracellular matrix in the posterior stroma compared to anterior stroma.

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