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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2013 Nov 13;54(12):7483-91. doi: 10.1167/iovs.13-13092.

The effects of retinoic acid on human corneal stromal keratocytes cultured in vitro under serum-free conditions.

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School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy, University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading, United Kingdom.



Retinoic acid (RA) is a metabolite of vitamin A that plays a fundamental role in the development and function of the human eye. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of RA on the phenotype of corneal stromal keratocytes maintained in vitro for extended periods under serum-free conditions.


Keratocytes isolated from human corneas were cultured up to 21 days in serum-free media supplemented with RA or DMSO vehicle. The effects of RA and of its removal after treatment on cell proliferation and morphology were evaluated. In addition, the expression of keratocyte markers was quantified at the transcriptional and protein levels by quantitative PCR and immunoblotting or ELISA, respectively. Furthermore, the effects of RA on keratocyte migration were tested using scratch assays.


Keratocytes cultured with RA up to 10 × 10(-6) M showed enhanced proliferation and stratification, and reduced mobility. RA also promoted the expression of keratocyte-characteristic proteoglycans, such as keratocan, lumican, and decorin, and increased the amounts of collagen type-I in culture while significantly reducing the expression of matrix metalloproteases 1, 3, and 9. RA effects were reversible, and cell phenotype reverted to that of control after removal of RA from media.


Retinoic acid was shown to control the phenotype of human corneal keratocytes cultured in vitro by regulating cell behavior and extracellular matrix composition. These findings contribute to our understanding of corneal stromal biology in health and disease, and may prove useful in optimizing keratocyte cultures for applications in tissue engineering, cell biology, and medicine.


cell-matrix interactions; corneal disease; corneal stroma; keratocytes; retinoic acid

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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