Aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) 3A1 expression by the human keratocyte and its repair phenotypes

Ying Pei, Rose Reins, Alison McDermott

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63 Citations (Scopus)


Transparency is essential for normal corneal function. Recent studies suggest that corneal cells express high levels of so-called corneal crystallins, such as aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) and transketolase (TKT) that contribute to maintaining cellular transparency. Stromal injury leads to the appearance of repair phenotype keratocytes, the corneal fibroblast and myofibroblast. Previous studies on keratocytes from species such as bovine and rabbit indicate that the transformation from the normal to repair phenotype is accompanied by a loss of corneal crystallin expression, which may be associated with loss of cellular transparency. Here we investigated if a similar loss occurs with human keratocyte repair phenotypes. Human corneal epithelial cells were collected by scraping and keratocytes were isolated by collagenase digestion from cadaveric corneas. The cells were either processed immediately (freshly isolated keratocytes) or were cultured in the presence of 10% fetal bovine serum or transforming growth factor-β to induce transformation to the corneal fibroblast and myofibroblast phenotypes, respectively. RT-PCR, western blotting and immunolabeling were used to detect mRNA and protein expression of ALDH isozymes and TKT. ALDH enzyme activity was also quantitated and immunolabeling was performed to determine the expression of ALDH3A1 in human corneal tissue sections from normal and diseased corneas. Human corneal keratocytes isolated from three donors expressed ALDH1A1 and ALDH3A1 mRNA, and one donor also expressed ALDH2 and TKT. Corneal epithelial cells expressed ALDH1A1, ALDH2, ALDH3A1 and TKT. Compared to normal keratocytes, corneal fibroblast expression of ALDH3A1 mRNA was reduced by 27% (n = 5). ALDH3A1 protein expression as detected by western blotting was markedly reduced in passage zero fibroblasts and undetectable in higher passages (n = 3). TKT protein expression was reduced in fibroblasts compared to keratocytes (n = 2). ALDH3A1 enzyme activity was not detectable in corneal fibroblasts (n = 6) but was readily detected in corneal epithelial cells (0.29 ± 0.1 U/mg protein, n = 4) and keratocytes (0.05 ± 0.009 U/mg protein, n = 7). ALDH3A1 expression was also reduced in corneal fibroblasts and myofibroblasts as determined by immunolabeling of the cells in culture (n = 3) and in diseased corneal tissues in situ (n = 2). We conclude that expression of the crystallin ALDH3A1 is decreased in repair phenotype human keratocytes, compared to normal human keratocytes. Extrapolating from studies of bovine and rabbit, the reduced expression of ALDH3A1 may contribute to the loss of corneal transparency experienced by human patients after injury and refractive surgeries.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1063-1073
JournalExperimental Eye Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006


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