PEDF gene deletion disrupts corneal innervation and ocular surface function

Zhenying Shang, Chenxi Li, Xuemei Liu, Manhong Xu, Xiaomin Zhang, Xiaorong Li, Colin J. Barnstable, Shaozhen Zhao, Joyce Tombran-Tink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


PURPOSE. The cornea is richly innervated by the trigeminal ganglion (TG) and its function supported by secretions from the adjacent lacrimal (LG) and meibomian glands (MG). In this study we examined how pigment epithelium–derived factor (PEDF) gene deletion affects the cornea structure and function. METHODS. We used PEDF hemizygous and homozygous knockout mice to study effects of PEDF deficiency on corneal innervation assessed by beta tubulin staining, mRNA expression of trophic factors, and PEDF receptors by adjacent supporting glands, corneal sensitivity measured using a Cochet-Bonnet esthesiometer, and tear production using phenol red cotton thread wetting. RESULTS. Loss of PEDF was accompanied by reduced corneal innervation and sensitivity, increased corneal surface injury and tear production, thinning of the corneal stroma and loss of stromal cells. PEDF mRNA was expressed in the cornea and its supporting tissues, the TG, LG, and MG. Deletion of one or both PEDF alleles resulted in decreased expression of essential trophic support in the TG, LG, and MG including nerve growth factor, brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor, and GDNF with significantly increased levels of NT-3 in the LG and decreased EGF expression in the cornea. Decreased transcription of the putative PEDF receptors, adipose triglyceride lipase, lipoprotein receptor–related protein 6, laminin receptor, PLXDC1, and PLXDC2 was also evident in the TG, LG and MG with the first three showing increased levels in corneas of the Pedf+/− and Pedf/− mice compared to wildtype controls. Constitutive inactivation of ERK1/2 and Akt was pronounced in the TG and cornea, although their protein levels were dramatically increased in Pedf/− mice. CONCLUSIONS. This study highlights an essential role for PEDF in corneal structure and function and confirms the reported rescue of exogenous PEDF treatment in corneal pathologies. The pleiotropic effects of PEDF deletion on multiple trophic factors, receptors and signaling molecules are strong indications that PEDF is a key coordinator of molecular mechanisms that maintain corneal function and could be exploited in therapeutic options for several ocular surface diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number18
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jun 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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