Investigative ophthalmology & visual science

The cell-layer- and cell-type-specific distribution of GalNAc-transferases in the ocular surface epithelia is altered during keratinization.

PMID 12506059


It has been hypothesized that the biosynthesis of O-linked glycans on proteins, particularly on the highly O-glycosylated mucins, by the corneal and conjunctival epithelium is necessary for the protection and maintenance of a healthy ocular surface. The initial step in O-glycosylation is the enzymatic addition of N-acetyl galactosamine (GalNAc) to serine and threonine residues by a large family of polypeptide GalNAc-transferases (GalNAc-Ts). The purpose of this study was to determine the cellular distribution of GalNAc-Ts in the normal ocular surface epithelia and to compare their distribution with that in pathologically keratinized conjunctival epithelia. Five conjunctival biopsy specimens and 5 corneas from normal individuals, and 14 conjunctival specimens from patients with ocular cicatricial pemphigoid (OCP) were used. Based on the histologic characteristics of their epithelia, OCP specimens were divided into two groups: less advanced, nonkeratinized (n = 6), and late-stage, keratinized (n = 8). Five monoclonal antibodies raised against the GalNAc-T1, -T2, -T3, -T4, and -T6 isoenzymes, were used for immunofluorescence microscopic localization according to standard protocols. Immunohistochemical studies revealed the presence of GalNAc-T2, -T3, and -T4 isoforms within the stratified epithelium of the cornea and the conjunctiva. The GalNAc-T4 isoenzyme was found in the apical cell layers, whereas GalNAc-T2 was found in the supranuclear region of the basal cell layers of both cornea and conjunctiva. GalNAc-T3 was distributed throughout the entire ocular surface epithelium, whereas GalNAc-T1 was found in scattered cells in conjunctiva only. Binding of antibody to GalNAc-T6 was restricted exclusively to conjunctival goblet cells. There were distinct alterations in expression patterns of GalNAc-T2, -T6, and -T1 in nonkeratinized OCP epithelia compared with normal epithelia. Both GalNAc-T2 and -T6 were expressed in the apical stratified epithelia, and T1 was detected in all cell layers in five of six biopsy specimens. By comparison with nonkeratinized OCP epithelia, a marked reduction in the binding of GalNAc-T antibody was observed in the late-stage keratinized conjunctival epithelia of patients with OCP. In all samples, apical GalNAc-T2 was absent, and GalNAc-T6 was entirely absent. Only one of eight samples was positive for GalNAc-T1. The presence of GalNAc-T isoenzymes in the human corneal and conjunctival epithelia is cell-layer and cell-type specific. The increased distribution of GalNAc-Ts observed in early stages of the keratinization process in patients with OCP suggests a compensatory attempt of the ocular surface epithelium to synthesize mucin-type O-glycans to maintain a wet-surface phenotype. This early increase in isoenzymes in nonkeratinized OCP epithelia is reduced as keratinization proceeds in the disease.