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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2010 Jul;51(7):3455-61. doi: 10.1167/iovs.09-4386. Epub 2010 Feb 24.

Transforming growth factor-{alpha} enhances corneal epithelial cell migration by promoting EGFR recycling.

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Department of Cell Biology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA.



The goal of this study was to determine the molecular mechanism by which transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha) is a more potent activator of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)-mediated corneal wound healing than epidermal growth factor (EGF).


Telomerase immortalized human corneal epithelial (hTCEpi) cells and primary human corneal epithelial cells were tested for their ability to migrate in response to EGF and TGF-alpha. In parallel, the endocytic trafficking of the EGFR in response to these same ligands was examined using indirect immunofluorescence, immunoblots, and radioligand binding.


TGF-alpha, compared with EGF, is a more potent activator of corneal epithelial cell migration. Although both TGF-alpha and EGF were able to induce EGFR internalization and phosphorylation, only those receptors that were stimulated with EGF progressed to lysosomal degradation. EGFRs stimulated with TGF-alpha recycled back to the plasma membrane, where they could be reactivated with ligand.


This study reveals that EGFR-mediated cell migration is limited by ligand-stimulated downregulation of the EGFR. This limitation can be overcome by treating cells with TGF-alpha because TGF-alpha stimulates EGFR endocytosis, but not degradation. After internalization of the TGF-alpha/EGFR complex, EGFR recycles back to the plasma membrane, where it can be restimulated. This sequence of events provides the receptor multiple opportunities for stimulation. Thus, stimulation with TGF-alpha prolongs EGFR signaling compared with EGF.

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