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Mol Vis. 2013;19:85-99. Epub 2013 Jan 17.

Involvement of corneal epithelial cells in the Th17 response in an in vitro bacterial inflammation model.

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Ocular Surface Group-IOBA, University of Valladolid, Valladolid, Spain.



Staphylococcus aureus (SA) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA) are frequent causes of bacterial keratitis, an inflammatory process that can lead to vision loss. We used a human corneal epithelial (HCE) cell line to study the Th17 inflammatory pathway, including interleukin (IL-) 6, IL-17, and associated receptors, in response to stimulation by SA and PA culture supernatants.


Cells of the HCE cell line were exposed to either SA or PA supernatants in dilutions of 1:100 or 1:50, or to human recombinant IL-17A (20 ng/ml). Cell culture supernatants were collected at 6, 24, and 72 h, and protein and RNA were isolated. Expression of cytokine (IL-6, IL-17A), receptor (sIL-6R, IL-17RA), and mediator (soluble glycoprotein [sgp] 130, MIP3α) proteins and mRNAs were determined with enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, immunohistochemistry, western blotting, and real-time, reverse-transcription quantitative PCR. In addition, IL-17RA was localized by transmission electron microscopy after immunogold labeling.


Basal secretion of IL-6 and IL-17A by HCE cells occurred in a time-dependent manner. Expression of IL-6 was significantly enhanced by SA stimulation, but not by PA stimulation. IL-6 mRNA expression was higher in the control and SA-stimulated cells at 6 and 24 h, but not at 72 h. In the PA-stimulated cells, mRNA levels were significantly lower than the controls at 6 and 24 h. Expression of sIL-6R was not altered by SA or PA supernatants, but sgp130 expression was greater than controls at 6 h, less than controls at 24 h, and the same as controls at 72 h. HCE cells secreted IL-17A in a time-dependent manner that was not altered by stimulation; however, the IL-17A mRNA levels were lower than those of the controls at 6 h. With immunohistochemistry, IL-17RA was localized in perinuclear vesicles and in the cytosol and membranes of HCE cells. IL-17RA was also present in the epithelial cells from human ocular surface tissues. As quantified with western blotting, expression of IL-17RA was unchanged in HCE cells stimulated by SA or PA supernatants.


HCE cells react to bacterial inflammation by enhancing the secretion of IL-6 and by regulating the proinflammatory response with differential secretion of sgp130. Under normal conditions, HCE cells and ocular surface tissues express IL-17RA. Additionally, HCE cells express IL-17RA after bacterial stimulation. All of these molecules are involved in the Th17 differentiation pathway, suggesting that corneal epithelial cells may act as indirect participants in the Th17 signaling pathway.

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