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Derek J. Royer, Michael H. Elliott, Yun Z. Le, Daniel J. J. Carr; Corneal Epithelial Cells Exhibit Myeloid Characteristics and Present Antigen via MHC Class II. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2018;59(3):1512-1522. doi: 10.1167/iovs.17-23279.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
To explore the impact of ocular surface insults on the immunomodulatory capacity and phenotype of corneal epithelial cells (CECs) with a focus on epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT).
Corneas were harvested from mice 6 days following scratch injury, ragweed pollen–induced allergy, or herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) infection and compared to healthy tissue controls. Corneas were enzymatically digested and CECs phenotypically characterized using flow cytometry. CECs were defined as epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM)-positive CD45-negative cells. CECs were assessed by PCR to evaluate EMT-associated transcripts. Recombinant HSV-1 and transgenic mice were utilized to investigate the role of vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA) on the phenotype observed. The immunomodulatory potential of CECs was assessed in coculture assays with ovalbumin-specific CD4 T cells.
Ectopic expression of classic “myeloid” antigens Ly6G, CCR2, and CX3CR1 was identified in CEC subsets from all groups with evidence supporting an underlying partial EMT event resulting from loss of cell–cell contacts. Corneal HSV-1 infection induced Ly6C expression and major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-II upregulation in CECs through a VEGFA-linked mechanism. These Ly6C+ MHC-II+ CECs were found to function as amateur antigen-presenting cells and induced CD4 T cell proliferation in vitro.
This study characterizes a novel immunomodulatory CEC phenotype with possible implications for immune privilege, chronic inflammation, and tissue fibrosis. Moreover, the identification of CECs masquerading with multiple “myeloid” antigens warrants careful evaluation of flow cytometry data involving corneal digests.
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