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• The level of keratocyte apoptosis is important in corneal opacity.
• Keratocytes produce key corneal epithelial basement membrane components.
• Competition between myofibroblasts and keratocytes is critical in haze development.
The corneal wound healing response, including the development of stromal opacity in some eyes, is a process that often leads to scarring that occurs after injury, surgery or infection to the cornea. Immediately after epithelial and stromal injury, a complex sequence of processes contributes to wound repair and regeneration of normal corneal structure and function. In some corneas, however, often depending on the type and extent of injury, the response may also lead to the development of mature vimentin+ α-smooth muscle actin+ desmin+ myofibroblasts. Myofibroblasts are specialized fibroblastic cells generated in the cornea from keratocyte-derived or bone marrow-derived precursor cells. The disorganized extracellular matrix components secreted by myofibroblasts, in addition to decreased expression of corneal crystallins in these cells, are central biological processes that result in corneal stromal fibrosis associated with opacity or “haze”. Several factors are associated with myofibroblast generation and haze development after PRK surgery in rabbits, a reproducible model of scarring, including the amount of tissue ablated, which may relate to the extent of keratocyte apoptosis in the early response to injury, irregularity of stromal surface after surgery, and changes in corneal stromal proteoglycans, but normal regeneration of the epithelial basement membrane (EBM) appears to be a critical factor determining whether a cornea heals with relative transparency or vision-limiting stromal opacity. Structural and functional abnormalities of the regenerated EBM facilitate prolonged entry of epithelium-derived growth factors such as transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) and platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) into the stroma that both drive development of mature myofibroblasts from precursor cells and lead to persistence of the cells in the anterior stroma. A major discovery that has contributed to our understanding of haze development is that keratocytes and corneal fibroblasts produce critical EBM components, such as nidogen-1, nidogen-2 and perlecan, that are essential for complete regeneration of a normal EBM once laminin secreted by epithelial cells self-polymerizes into a nascent EBM. Mature myofibroblasts that become established in the anterior stroma are a barrier to keratocyte/corneal fibroblast contributions to the nascent EBM. These myofibroblasts, and the opacity they produce, often persist for months or years after the injury. Transparency is subsequently restored when the EBM is completely regenerated, myofibroblasts are deprived of TGFβ and undergo apoptosis, and the keratocytes re-occupy the anterior stroma and reabsorb disordered extracellular matrix. The aim of this review is to highlight factors involved in the generation of stromal haze and its subsequent removal.
Journal: Experimental Eye Research - Volume 142, January 2016, Pages 110–118