Keratoconus (KC) is a progressive corneal thinning disease that manifests in puberty and worsens during pregnancy. KC onset and progression are attributed to diverse factors that include: environmental, genetics, and hormonal imbalances; however, the pathobiology remains elusive. This study aims to determine the role of corneal stroma sex hormone receptors in KC and their interplay with estrone (E1) and estriol (E3) using our established 3D in vitro model. Healthy cornea stromal cells (HCFs) and KC cornea stromal cells (HKCs), both male and female, were stimulated with various concentrations of E1 and E3. Significant changes were observed between cell types, as well as between males and females in the sex hormone receptors tested; androgen receptor (AR), progesterone receptor (PR), estrogen receptor alpha (ERα), and estrogen receptor beta (ERβ) using Western blot analysis. E1 and E3 stimulations in HCF females showed AR, PR, and ERβ were significantly upregulated compared to HCF males. In contrast, ERα and ERβ had significantly higher expression in HKC’s females than HKC’s males. Our data suggest that the human cornea is a sex-dependent, hormone-responsive tissue that is significantly influenced by E1 and E3. Therefore, it is plausible that E1, E3, and sex hormone receptors are involved in the KC pathobiology, warranting further investigation.
- Sex hormones