Regulation of Corneal Stromal Cell Behavior by Modulating Curvature Using a Hydraulically Controlled Organ Chip Array.

Minju Kim, Kanghoon Choi, David Krizaj,Jungkyu Kim

Research square(2024)

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Curvature is a critical factor in cornea mechanobiology, but its impact on phenotypic alterations and extracellular matrix remodeling of cornea stroma remains unclear. In this work, we investigated how curvature influences the corneal stroma using a hydraulically controlled curvature array chip. The responses of stromal cells to low, medium, and high curvatures were observed by preparing three phenotypes of corneal stromal cells: corneal keratocytes, fibroblasts, and myofibroblasts. Keratocytes exhibited phenotypic alterations in response to curvature changes, notably including a decrease in ALDH3 expression and an increase in α-SMA expression. For focal adhesion, corneal fibroblast and myofibroblasts showed enhanced vinculin localization in response to curvature, while corneal keratocytes presented reduced vinculin expression. For cell alignment and ECM expression, most stromal cells under all curvatures showed a radially organized f-actin and collagen fibrils. Interestingly, for corneal fibroblast under medium curvature, we observed orthogonal cell alignment, which is linked to the unique hoop and meridional stress profiles of the curved surface. Furthermore, lumican expression was upregulated in corneal keratocytes, and keratocan expression was increased in corneal fibroblasts and myofibroblasts due to curvature. These results demonstrate that curvature influences both the phenotype of corneal stromal cells and the structural organization of corneal stroma tissue without any external stimuli. This curvature-dependent behavior of corneal stromal cells presents potential opportunities for creating therapeutic strategies for corneal shape dysfunctions.
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