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Dorota M. Nowak-Malczewska, Justyna A. Karolak, Joanna Swierkowska, Marcelina M. Jaworska, Karolina I. Kulinska, Piotr Polakowski, Malgorzata Rydzanicz, Rafal Ploski, Jacek P. Szaflik, Marzena Gajecka; Changes in Nuclear Gene Expression Related to Mitochondrial Function Affect Extracellular Matrix, Collagens, and Focal Adhesion in Keratoconus. Trans. Vis. Sci. Tech. 2021;10(11):6. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/tvst.10.11.6.
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Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) abnormalities were previously found to be causative in the pathogenesis of various diseases. Here, comprehensive mitochondrial and nuclear sequence and transcript analyses, along with analyses of the methylation aspects of nuclear genes related to mitochondrial function, were performed in patients with keratoconus (KTCN) to evaluate their contribution to the KTCN pathogenesis.
Blood mtDNA of 42 KTCN and 51 non-KTCN individuals was Sanger sequenced and analyzed along with the previously obtained corneal RNA-sequencing data of 20 KTCN and 21 non-KTCN individuals. In addition, the expression and methylation of mtDNA genes and 1223 mitochondria-related nuclear genes were evaluated.
The mtDNA sequence alterations detected in blood coincided with variants identified in transcripts of the matched corneal tissues. In KTCN corneas, 97 mitochondria-related genes were deregulated, including TGFB1, P4HB, and BCL2, which are involved in the extracellular matrix (ECM) organization, collagen formation, and focal adhesion pathways. No changes in the expression of mtDNA transcripts and no differentially methylated genes among the assessed mitochondrial–nuclear gene sets were found.
The absence of corneal-specific mtDNA variants indicates that there is no direct relationship between mitochondrial sequence variability and KTCN phenotype in the studied individuals. However, the identified KTCN-specific transcriptomic alterations of the nuclear genes directly related to the mitochondria functioning point to their possible involvement in the ECM organization, collagen formation, and focal adhesion.
The identification of abnormalities within nuclear genes regulating ECM formation, collagen synthesis, and/or focal adhesion may form the basis of future treatment strategies or predict the progression of corneal changes in KTCN.
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