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James Kubilus, Thomas F Linsenmayer; Nerve induced gene expression in corneal epithelial cells during embryonic development. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2014;55(13):2199.
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The dense network of nerves that innervates the corneal epithelium helps to maintain vision by protecting the cornea from damage through multiple mechanisms. These include transduction of painful noxious or damaging stimuli as sensations of pain, increasing the production of tears, and releasing factors that maintain the cornea in a healthy state. The loss of these nerves can lead to the impairment of normal vision. The nerves that transduce these sensations are thought to terminate as simple free nerve endings in the apical cell layer of the corneal epithelium. However recent studies suggest there is a complex functional interaction between these cells and nerves. Therefore, these studies sought to determine the molecular mechanisms involved in the functional interaction between corneal epithelial cells and corneal nerves.
The apical epithelial cells in embryonic chicken corneas were isolated by impression cytology. RNA was isolated from pre- and post-innervation stage corneas and compared by microarray analysis. Differentially expressed genes were functionally grouped using GO and DAVID analyses. Their expression was then further characterized using qRT-PCR, in situ hybridization, western blot and immunohistochemistry.
Microarray followed by bioinformatic analyses demonstrated that subsets of genes were differentially expressed in the apical epithelial cells during the normal developmental interaction of corneal epithelial cells and nerves. A subset of genes not previously described in the cornea, but known to function during neural development and synapse interaction was upregulated in the apical epithelial cells. Further characterization of these genes suggested their involvement in the interaction between nerves and corneal epithelial cells.
The initial developmental interaction between the apical corneal epithelial cells and corneal nerves induces changes in gene expression in the corneal cells. These studies suggest that these genes may be necessary for setting up the complex functional interaction between the corneal epithelial cells and nerves that is necessary for their protection of normal vision.
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