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Daniel Kampik, Mark Basche, Anastasios Georgiadis, Ulrich F. O. Luhmann, D. Frank Larkin, Alexander J. Smith, Robin R. Ali; Modulation of Contact Inhibition by ZO-1/ZONAB Gene Transfer—A New Strategy to Increase the Endothelial Cell Density of Corneal Grafts. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2019;60(8):3170-3177. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/iovs.18-26260.
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Endothelial cell density (ECD) is the principal factor determining the success of corneal transplants. Here we explored a strategy to increase corneal ECD in human explants via modulation of the ZO-1/ZONAB pathway. In multiple cell types, ZO-1 maintains G1 cell cycle arrest via cytoplasmic sequestration of the mitosis-inducing transcription factor ZONAB. In this study, we assessed the effects of lentiviral vector-mediated downregulation of ZO-1 or overexpression of ZONAB upon ECD and the integrity of the endothelial monolayer.
HIV-based lentiviral vectors were used to deliver either constitutively expressed ZONAB (LNT-ZONAB), or a small hairpin RNA targeting ZO-1 (LNT-shZO1). Human corneal specimens were bisected and each half was exposed to either treatment or control vector. After 1 week in ex vivo culture, effects were assessed by quantitative RT-PCR, immunohistochemistry, and ECD assessment.
LNT-shZO1 achieved an ∼45% knockdown of ZO-1 mRNA in corneal endothelial cells cultured ex vivo, reduced ZO-1 staining, and did not affect morphologic endothelial monolayer integrity. The proliferative effect of LNT-shZO1 correlated with control ECD but not with donor age. Within a low-ECD cohort an ∼30% increase in ECD was observed. LNT-ZONAB achieved a >200-fold overexpression of ZONAB mRNA, which led to an ∼25% increase in ECD.
ZO-1 downregulation or ZONAB upregulation increases corneal ECD via interference with contact inhibition and cell cycle control. With further development, such approaches might provide a means for improving ECD in donor corneas before transplantation.
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