LIGNEOUS CONJUNCTIVITIS: Biochemical Evidence for Hypofibrinolysis

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Ligneous conjunctivitis (LC) is a rare disease of unknown etiology characterized by the growth of “woody” plaques on ocular and extraocular mucosa. These lesions are comprised of fibrin and both direct and indirect evidence implicates hypofibrinolysis as the primary defect in LC. To further elucidate the pathophysiology of LC we investigated the biochemical aspects of ligneous lesions with respect to the fibrinolytic system. Ligneous lesions were obtained from the right eye of a 15 year-old female patient with longstanding LC since age 2.5 year. Ligneous conjunctivitis in this patient has exhibited a chronic recurrent coarse and has involved multiple muscosal sites. Samples analyzed included an abundant mucoid thread from the conjunctival fornix and the ligneous plaque attached to the inferior tarsus. Samples were analyzed by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) to characterize protein profiles and by a variety of zymographic methods to visualize fibrinolytic enzymes. We found that mucoid and ligneous samples were distinct entities. Specifically, ligneous samples contained polypeptides with electrophoretic profiles characteristic of intact fibrin, and were replete in fibrin-bound tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA). Despite the presence of ample t-PA, ligneous samples were essentially devoid of fibrinolytic activity. In contrast, neither proteins nor t-PA could be detected in mucoid samples when fractionated by 7.5–15% SDS-PAGE or analyzed by fibrin zymography, respectively. Despite the absence of t-PA, mucoid samples were replete in fibrinolytic activity. This activity was plasminogen independent, heterogenous and inhibited by PMSF. Degradation profiles suggested that this activity represented in part α-chymotrypsin, consistent with this patient's treatment regime, as well as plasmin, elastase and an unidentified neutrophil-derived activity. Interestingly, ligneous samples contained both latent and activated forms of matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9), whereas mucoid samples contained predominantly activated forms of MMP-9. LC is characterized by defective fibrinolysis, despite the presence of ample t-PA and intact fibrin, and by an abundant mucoid thread which binds both endogenous and exogenous enzymes including serine protease(s) and collagenase(s). The implications of these results with respect to a role for exuberant mucus production or abnormal mucins in the development of a relative mucosal-site specific plasmin(ogen) deficiency is discussed.

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