Acute hypoxia influences collagen and matrix metalloproteinase expression by human keratoconus cells in vitro

Tina B. McKay, Jesper Hjortdal, Shrestha Priyadarsini, Dimitrios Karamichos

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35 Scopus citations


Keratoconus (KC) is a progressive corneal ectasia linked to thinning of the central cornea. Hard contact lenses, rigid gas permeable lenses, and scleral lenses are the primary treatment modalities for early to mid- stages of KC to correct refractive error and astigmatism that develops as a result of an irregular corneal structure. These treatments are associated with significant drawbacks, including reduced availability of the tear film and oxygen to the corneal epithelium and stroma. However, it remains unknown whether hypoxia affects corneal integrity in the KC pathobiology. A number of studies have associated elevated oxidative stress with KC both in vitro and ex vivo. We hypothesized that KC-derived corneal fibroblasts are more susceptible to hypoxia-induced oxidative stress compared to healthy controls leading to exacerbation of corneal thinning in KC. This study investigated the effects of hypoxia on ECM secretion, assembly, and matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) expression in human corneal fibroblasts from healthy controls (HCFs) and KC patients (HKCs) in vitro. HCFs and HKCs were cultured in 3D constructs for 3 weeks and maintained or transferred to normoxic (21% O2) or hypoxic (2% O2) conditions, respectively, for 1 additional week. At the 4 week time-point, constructs were isolated and probed for Collagen I, III, and V, keratocan and MMP-1, -2, -3, -9, and -13, as well as hypoxia markers, hypoxia inducible factor-1α; and lactoferrin. Conditioned media was also collected and probed for Collagen I, III, and V by Western blot. Thickness of the ECM assembled by HCFs and HKCs was measured using immunofluorescence microscopy. Results showed that hypoxia significantly reduced Collagen I secretion in HKCs, as well as upregulated the expression of MMP-1 and -2 with no significant effects on MMP-3, -9, or -13. ECM thickness was reduced in both cell types following 1 week in a low oxygen environment. Our study shows that hypoxia influences collagen and MMP expression by HKCs, which may have consequential effects on ECM structure in the context of KC.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0176017
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2017


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