Endocrine and Metabolic Pathways Linked to Keratoconus: Implications for the Role of Hormones in the Stromal Microenvironment

Tina B. McKay, Jesper Hjortdal, Henrik Sejersen, John M. Asara, Jennifer Wu, Dimitrios Karamichos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Hormones play a critical role in regulating tissue function by promoting cell survival, proliferation, and differentiation. Our study explores the influence of endocrine function in regulating metabolism and inflammatory pathways in Keratoconus (KC), which is a corneal thinning disease associated with reduced stromal deposition. KC is known to be a multifactorial disease with an elusive pathogenesis. We utilized a cross-sectional study analyzing clinical features and saliva samples from sixty-four KC patients and fourteen healthy controls. In order to determine if endocrine function varied between healthy controls and KC, we measured hormone levels in saliva and found significantly increased dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) and reduced estrone levels in KC patients compared to healthy controls. We measured significant variations in metabolites associated with pro-inflammatory processes, including myoinositol and 1-methyl-histidine, by targeted mass spectrometry. We also measured significantly increased IL-16 and stem cell factor in KC saliva samples compared to healthy controls, with higher expression of these pro-inflammatory proteins correlating with increased KC clinical grade, corneal curvature, and stromal thinning. Our results identify a novel mechanism linking KC and pro-inflammatory markers and suggest that altered hormone levels modulate metabolism, cytokine, and growth factor expression leading to increased severity of the KC condition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number25534
JournalScientific Reports
StatePublished - 9 May 2016


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