Increased substrate stiffness elicits a myofibroblastic phenotype in human lamina cribrosa cells

Baiyun Liu, Jason I. Kilpatrick, Bartlomiej Lukasz, Suzanne P. Jarvis, Fiona McDonnell, Deborah M. Wallace, Abbot F. Clar, Colm J. O’Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Purpose: Alteration in the extracellular matrix (ECM) of the optic nerve head (ONH) causes lamina cribrosa (LC) fibrosis and affects the mechanical integrity of the ONH. Increased ECM tissue stiffness drives myofibroblast activation leading to tissue fibrosis throughout the body. Here using primary human LC cells, we investigate the effect of substrate stiffness on profibrotic changes, which might be a key molecular mechanism driving ECM remodeling of the LC in primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) glaucoma. Methods: Primary human LC cells from normal and age-matched POAG glaucoma donors were cultured on substrates with defined mechanical properties of 5 and 100 kPa to replicate the range of mechanical microenvironments that cells may experience in vivo. Cell morphology, spread area, actin stress fibers, vinculin-focal adhesion formation, and α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) signal were examined using immunofluorescence staining. The elastic modulus of cells was measured using atomic force microscopy (AFM). Results: Significantly greater cell spread area along with increased actin filament development, and vinculin-focal adhesion formation (number and size) were found in both normal and glaucoma LC cells cultured on stiff substrates. These changes were positively associated with elevated cell stiffness measured by AFM. Changes in spreading and cytoskeleton organization of glaucoma LC cells were significantly more pronounced than those in normal cells. The transformation to a myofibroblast-like cell phenotype was identified in both LC cells exposed to stiffer substrates, as indicated by an increased α-SMA signal and its colocalization with the actin stress fibers. Conclusions: These findings demonstrated that a stiffer cell microenvironment activates a myofibroblastic transformation in human LC cells, and therefore contributes to LC remodelling and fibrosis in glaucoma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)803-814
Number of pages12
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2018


  • Biophysical cues
  • Glaucoma
  • Lamina cribrosa cells
  • Myofibroblast transformation
  • Substrate stiffness


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