Transforming growth factor-beta-stimulated connective tissue growth factor expression during corneal myofibroblast differentiation

P A Folger, D Zekaria, G Grotendorst, S K Masur
Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science 2001, 42 (11): 2534-41

PURPOSE: Transforming growth factor beta1 (TGF-beta) stimulates the differentiation of myofibroblasts as indicated by the nascent expression of alpha-smooth muscle (alpha-SM) actin protein and its organization into stress fibers. Downstream messengers of TGF-beta in the conversion from the fibroblast to the myofibroblast phenotype were investigated. Whether TGF-beta increases the transcription of a second growth factor, connective tissue growth factor 1 (CTGF), which could mediate myofibroblast differentiation, was evaluated. CTGF, a newly identified growth factor, is highly expressed in dermal granulation tissue.

METHODS: In this study, primary cultures of rabbit corneal fibroblasts were exposed to growth factors to investigate CTGF mRNA and protein expression during myofibroblast differentiation. Statistical analysis was used to evaluate the impact of growth factor treatment on myofibroblast differentiation.

RESULTS: . TGF-beta treatment induced both CTGF mRNA and protein in rabbit corneal fibroblasts; in contrast, fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF) and heparin led to a decrease in CTGF mRNA. Addition of recombinant CTGF to rabbit corneal fibroblast cultures did not significantly increase alpha-SM actin mRNA or protein nor did it appear to affect assembly of alpha-SM actin stress fibers.

CONCLUSIONS: This is the first study to present evidence for the induction of CTGF by TGF-beta treatment of corneal fibroblasts. It is doubtful that CTGF is the TGF-beta mediator of the corneal fibroblast to myofibroblast transition because CTGF does not induce alpha-SM actin in subconfluent fibroblast cultures. CTGF may play a supporting role in myofibroblast differentiation.

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