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Am J Transplant. 2007 Sep;7(9):2082-9. Epub 2007 Jul 5.

Corneal graft rejection is accompanied by apoptosis of the endothelium and is prevented by gene therapy with bcl-xL.

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Schepens Eye Research Institute, Harvaard Medical School, 20 Staniford St, Boston, MA, USA.


Corneal transplants normally enjoy a high percentage of survival, mainly because the eye is an immune-privileged site. When allograft failure occurs, it is most commonly due to rejection, an immune-mediated reaction that targets the corneal endothelium. While the exact mechanism by which the endothelium is targeted is still unknown, we postulate that corneal endothelial cell loss during allograft failure is mediated by apoptosis. Furthermore, because corneal endothelial cells do not normally regenerate, we hypothesize that suppressing apoptosis in the graft endothelium will promote transplant survival. In a murine model of transplantation, TUNEL staining and confocal microscopy showed apoptosis of the graft endothelium occurring in rejecting corneas as early as 2 weeks posttransplantation. We found that bcl-xL protected cultured corneal endothelial cells from apoptosis and that lentiviral delivery of bcl-xL to the corneal endothelium of donor corneas significantly improved the survival of allografts. These studies suggest a novel approach to improve corneal allograft survival by preventing apoptosis of the endothelium.

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