PURPOSE. To characterize the expression of the visual system homeobox gene (VSX1) in human corneal keratocytes both in vitro and in vivo. METHODS. The expression of VSX1 was evaluated through semi-quantitative RT-PCR, immunofluorescence and in situ hybridization both in corneas (either freshly obtained or wounded) and in collagenase/hyaluronidase-isolated keratocytes grown in the absence or presence of serum to promote keratocyte-to-myofibroblast differentiation. RESULTS. Quiescent or resting keratocytes normally residing in the corneal stroma or cultured in vitro in the absence of serum did not express VSX1. In wounded corneas or when cultured in the presence of serum to rnirnic wound-healing responses, keratocytes underwent fibroblastic transformation (with appearance of α-SMA and disappearance of CD-34 and keratocan signals) and started expressing VSX1. CONCLUSIONS. The results show that VSX1 is expressed in vitro and in vivo during human corneal wound healing, a process in which differentiation of corneal keratocytes into myofibroblasts occurs. These data may help to elucidate the role of VSX1 in cornea physiology suggesting a potential involvement in cornea-related diseases such as keratoconus.
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