PLoS One. 2023 Dec 14;18(12):e0295542. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0295542. eCollection 2023.
BACKGROUND: Late-onset Fuchs’ endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD) is a degenerative disease of cornea and the leading indication for corneal transplantation. Genetically, FECD patients can be categorized as with (RE+) or without (RE-) the CTG trinucleotide repeat expansion in the transcription factor 4 gene. The molecular mechanisms underlying FECD remain unclear, though there are plausible pathogenic models proposed for RE+ FECD.
METHOD: In this study, we performed a meta-analysis on RNA sequencing datasets of FECD corneal endothelium including 3 RE+ datasets and 2 RE- datasets, aiming to compare the transcriptomic profiles of RE+ and RE- FECD. Gene differential expression analysis, co-expression networks analysis, and pathway analysis were conducted.
RESULTS: There was a striking similarity between RE+ and RE- transcriptomes. There were 1,184 genes significantly upregulated and 1,018 genes significantly downregulated in both RE+ and RE- cases. Pathway analysis identified multiple biological processes significantly enriched in both-mitochondrial functions, energy-related processes, ER-nucleus signaling pathway, demethylation, and RNA splicing were negatively enriched, whereas small GTPase mediated signaling, actin-filament processes, extracellular matrix organization, stem cell differentiation, and neutrophil mediated immunity were positively enriched. The translational initiation process was downregulated in the RE+ transcriptomes. Gene co-expression analysis identified modules with relatively distinct biological processes enriched including downregulation of mitochondrial respiratory chain complex assembly. The majority of oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) subunit genes, as well as their upstream regulator gene estrogen-related receptor alpha (ESRRA), encoding ERRα, were downregulated in both RE+ and RE- cases, and the expression level of ESRRA was correlated with that of OXPHOS subunit genes.
CONCLUSION: Meta-analysis increased the power of detecting differentially expressed genes. Integrating differential expression analysis with co-expression analysis helped understand the underlying molecular mechanisms. FECD RE+ and RE- transcriptomic profiles are much alike with the hallmark of downregulation of genes in pathways related to ERRα-mediated OXPHOS.