Investigative ophthalmology & visual science

Keratocytes create stromal spaces to promote corneal neovascularization via MMP13 expression.

PMID 25190659


To investigate the exact mechanism by which keratocytes promote corneal neovascularization. The expression of matrix metalloproteinase 13 (MMP13), cluster of differentiation 146 (CD146), VEGFa, VEGFc, VEGF receptor (r)2, and VEGFr3 by normal and alkali-burned rat corneas was determined via quantitative (q)RT-PCR and/or Western blot analysis or in situ hybridization. Corneal neovascularization was observed under a slit lamp microscope and evaluated via immunohistochemistry. The cells that expressed MMP13 in the corneas were determined via sequential immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization. The degradation of type I collagen was evaluated via the detection of hydroxyproline content and Western blot analysis. The effects of VEGFa and VEGFc on MMP13 expression were determined via luciferase reporter assay for the MMP13 promoter and primary keratocyte culture. Matrix metalloproteinase 13 was predominantly expressed by epithelial cells in normal rat corneas, but it was expressed by cells in corneal stromas after alkali burns. The formation of new blood vessels was consistent with MMP13 expression and attenuated by a selective MMP13 inhibitor in alkali-burned corneas. Keratocytes were the major cells expressing MMP13 in corneal stromas after alkali burns. Through MMP13 expression, keratocytes directly degraded collagen type I to create stromal spaces, which were convenient for newly formed blood vessels to grow into. Expression of MMP13 and collagen type I degradation via keratocytes were induced by VEGFc through VEGFr3 and inhibited by antibodies for VEGFc and VEGFr3. Keratocytes could directly degrade type I collagen and create stromal spaces, promoting corneal neovascularization through VEGFc/VEGFr3-induced MMP13 expression.

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