Stem Cell Research
School of Medical and Health Sciences
EU COST CA18116 (MN, CC; https://aniridia-net.eu/); DFG Research Unit FOR 2240 (MN, SB, CC; www.for2240.de); EU Horizon 2020 Arrest Blindness (MN, CC; www.arrestblindness.eu)
Pterygium pathogenesis is often attributed to a population of altered limbal stem cells, which initiate corneal invasion and drive the hyperproliferation and fibrosis associated with the disease. These cells are thought to undergo epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) and to contribute to subepithelial stromal fibrosis. In this study, the presence of the novel limbal stem cell marker ABCB5 in clusters of basal epithelial pterygium cells co-expressing with P63α and P40 is reported. ABCB5-positive pterygium cells also express EMT-associated fibrosis markers including vimentin and α-SMA while their β-catenin expression is reduced. By using a novel in vitro model of two-dose UV-induced EMT activation on limbal epithelial cells, we could observe the dysregulation of EMT-related proteins including an increase of vimentin and α-SMA as well as downregulation of β-catenin in epithelial cells correlating to downregulation of ABCB5. The sequential irradiation of limbal fibroblasts also induced an increase in vimentin and α-SMA. Taken together, these data demonstrate for the first time the expression of ABCB5 in pterygium stem cell activity and EMT-related events while the involvement of limbal stem cells in pterygium pathogenesis is exhibited via sequential irradiation of limbal epithelial cells. The later in vitro approach can be used to further study the involvement of limbal epithelium UV-induced EMT in pterygium pathogenesis and help identify novel treatments against pterygium growth and recurrence.
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