Collagen cross-linking impact on keratoconus extracellular matrix

Rabab Sharif, Ben Fowler, Dimitrios Karamichos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Background Keratoconus (KC) is a common multifactorial ectatic corneal disease with unknown onset. KC most commonly appears in adolescence and affects approximately 1:400 people worldwide. Treatment options, for advanced KC cases, are collagen cross-linking (CXL) and corneal transplants. CXL is a new KC treatment that helps arrest the disease. Unfortunately, only a fraction of KC patients will qualify for CXL treatment. Our goal, in this study, was to begin to understand how CXL affects the corneal microenvironment and pave the way towards a more patient-driven CXL treatment. Methods Primary human corneal fibroblasts from healthy and KC donors were plated on transwell polycarbonate membranes and stimulated by a stable vitamin C. At 4 weeks, riboflavin was added followed by UVA irradiation. Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) and western blots were used to assess the effect of CXL on the extracellular matrix (ECM) and the resident cells, pre- and post CXL. Results Data shows CXL improved lamellar organization showing more organized collagen fibrils decorated with proteoglycans (PGs). The distribution of the collagen fibrils and interfibrillar spacing was also visibly improved, post-CXL. Lumican, mimecan, and decorin were the dominant PGs and were significantly upregulated in post-CXL cultures. ECM degradation proteins, matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), MMP-1, -3, and -9, but not MMP-2, were significantly downregulated post-CXL. TIMP-1 and -2 were not modulated by CXL. Conclusion The unknown effects of CXL on the human corneal microenvironment have hampered our ability to make CXL available to all KC patients. Our current study provides a deeper understanding on CXL activity, using our unique 3D in vitro model.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0200704
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2018


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