Collagen crosslinking provides the mechanical strength required for physiological maintenance of the extracellular matrix in most tissues in the human body, including the cornea. Aging and diabetes mellitus (DM) are processes that are both associated with increased collagen crosslinking that leads to increased corneal rigidity. By contrast, keratoconus (KC) is a corneal thinning disease associated with decreased mechanical stiffness leading to ectasia of the central cornea. Studies have suggested that crosslinking mediated by reactive advanced glycation end products during DM may protect the cornea from KC development. Parallel to this hypothesis, riboflavin-mediated photoreactive corneal crosslinking has been proposed as a therapeutic option to halt the progression of corneal thinning by inducing intra- and intermolecular crosslink formation within the collagen fibrils of the stroma, leading to stabilization of the disease. Here, we review the pathobiology of DM and KC in the context of corneal structure, the epidemiology behind the inverse correlation of DM and KC development, and the chemical mechanisms of lysyl oxidase-mediated crosslinking, advanced glycation end product-mediated crosslinking, and photoreactive riboflavin-mediated corneal crosslinking. The goal of this review is to define the biological and chemical pathways important in physiological and pathological processes related to collagen crosslinking in DM and KC.
- advanced glycation end products
- lysyl oxidase