Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2023 Nov 1;64(14):18. doi: 10.1167/iovs.64.14.18.
PURPOSE: Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and mitochondrial stress are independently associated with corneal endothelial cell (CEnC) loss in many corneal diseases, including Fuchs’ endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD). However, the role of ER stress in mitochondrial dysfunction contributing to CEnC apoptosis is unknown. The purpose of this study is to explore the crosstalk between ER and mitochondrial stress in CEnC.
METHODS: Human corneal endothelial cell line (HCEnC-21T) and human corneal endothelial tissues were treated with ER stressor tunicamycin. ER stress-reducing chemical 4-phenyl butyric acid (4-PBA) was used in HCEnC-21T after tunicamycin. Fuchs’ corneal endothelial cell line (F35T) was used to determine differential activation of ER stress with respect to HCEnC-21T at the baseline. ER stress, mitochondrial-mediated intrinsic apoptotic, mitochondrial fission, and fusion proteins were determined using immunoblotting and immunohistochemistry. Mitochondrial bioenergetics were assessed by mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP) loss and ATP production at 48 hours after tunicamycin. Mitochondria dynamics (shape, area, perimeter) were also analyzed at 24 hours using transmission electron microscopy.
RESULTS: Treatment of HCEnC-21T cell line with tunicamycin activated three ER stress pathways (PERK-eIF2α-CHOP, IRE1α-XBP1, and ATF6), reduced cell viability, upregulated mitochondrial-mediated intrinsic apoptotic molecules (cleaved caspase 9, caspase 3, PARP, Bax, cytochrome C), downregulated anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 protein, initiated mitochondrial dysfunction by loss of MMP and lowering of ATP production, and caused mitochondrial swelling and fragmentation with increased expression of mitochondrial fission proteins (Fis1 and p-Drp1). Fuchs’ CEnC (F35T) cell line also showed activation of the ER stress-related proteins (p-eIF2α, GRP78, CHOP, XBP1) compared to HCEnC-21T at the baseline. The 4-PBA ameliorated cell loss and reduced cleaved caspase 3 and 9, thereby rescuing tunicamycin-induced cell death but not mitochondrial bioenergetics in HCEnC-21T cell line.
CONCLUSIONS: Tunicamycin-induced ER stress disrupts mitochondrial bioenegetics, dynamics and contributes to the loss of CEnC viability. This novel study highlights the importance of ER-mitochondria crosstalk and its contribution to CEnCs apoptosis, seen in many corneal diseases, including FECD.