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Exp Cell Res. 2012 Apr 1;318(6):741-52. doi: 10.1016/j.yexcr.2011.12.018. Epub 2012 Jan 2.

Corneal stromal cells use both high- and low-contractility migration mechanisms in 3-D collagen matrices.

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Department of Ophthalmology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX, USA.


Corneal keratocyte migration can impact both corneal clarity and refractive outcome following injury or refractive surgery. In this study, we investigated how culture conditions, ECM properties, and Rho kinase activity regulate the mechanics of keratocyte migration, using a nested collagen matrix model. Time-lapse imaging demonstrated that both serum and PDGF stimulate keratocyte migration into the outer matrix. Although the velocity of cell migration was similar, cells in serum were bipolar and induced significant matrix deformation during migration, whereas PDGF induced extension of branching dendritic processes with smaller, more localized force generation. These differences in cell-induced matrix reorganization were verified with a global matrix contraction assay and confocal reflection imaging, using both bovine and rat tail collagen. When constructs were detached from the substrate to lower the effective stiffness, migration was significantly reduced in serum; but was unchanged in PDGF. These differences in migration mechanics were mediated, in part, by Rho kinase. Overall, corneal keratocytes can effectively migrate through collagen matrices using varying degrees of cellular force generation. Low-contractility migration may facilitate keratocyte repopulation of the stroma following surgery or injury, without altering the structural and mechanical properties that are critical to maintaining corneal transparency.

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