Decorin antagonizes corneal fibroblast migration via caveolae-mediated endocytosis of epidermal growth factor receptor

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Decorin (Dcn), a small leucine-rich proteoglycan, is involved in the regulation of corneal wound healing. Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) plays a critical role in corneal fibroblasts proliferation, migration and extracellular matrix (ECM) modulation upon injury or infection. The present study aimed to investigate the mechanistic role of Dcn in EGFR internalization to the regulation of corneal stromal fibroblasts (CSFs) migration, a key step in the corneal wound healing. Human corneal stromal fibroblasts (hCSF) cultures were generated from donor corneas. At 70% confluence, cells were switched to serum-free conditions for 48 h and then treated with decorin (250 nM) in the presence or absence of EGF (100 ng/ml) for various time points (10–60 min). Cell lysates were subjected to proteome array analysis screening for 42 different phosphorylated human receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs), immunocytochemistry, and western blots to analyze EGFR phosphorylation. The scratch-wound assay was performed to evaluate the effects of decorin on EGF-mediated hCSF migration. Dcn caused a rapid EGFR phosphorylation within 10 min of exposure in RTK blot defining its role as a biological ligand for EGFR in hCSFs. Prolonged exposure to Dcn caused complete disappearance of EGFR and inhibition of the hCSF migration in the scratch wound assay suggesting Dcn binding to EGFR causes EGFR down-regulation. Immunostaining studies indicated that Dcn-treatment to hCSFs internalizes Dcn-EGFR complex, which does not require tyrosine kinase activity when treated with the AG1478 inhibitor and co-localizes the complex to the perinuclear region. Next, we found that Dcn-EGFR complex does not follow canonical early endosome internalization as revealed by the EEA1 antibody instead binds to the CD63 antibody directed for degradation by the late endosome. We also found that Dcn regulates the EGFR recycling by preventing its binding to Rab11, a specific antibody for recycling endosome. Further, hCSFs-pretreated with pharmacological inhibitors, methyl-β-cyclodextrin and chlorpromazine and supplemented with Dcn suggested EGFR trafficking via the caveolae-mediated pathway. These results suggest that Dcn acts as a biological ligand for EGFR and modulates hCSF migration via EGFR down-regulation, thus playing a vital role in corneal wound healing.Graphical abstractHighlightsEpidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) regulates stromal repair by controlling migration and proliferation of keratocytes and fibroblasts.Decorin acts as a biological ligand for EGFRand significantly downregulates migration of human corneal fibroblasts during wound healing.Decorin-induced EGFR internalization occurs via caveolar-mediated endocytosis.

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