Transient Ingrowth of Lymphatic Vessels into the Physiologically Avascular Cornea Regulates Corneal Edema and Transparency

Hos D, Bukowiecki A, Horstmann J, Bock F, Bucher F, Heindl LM, Siebelmann S, Steven P, Dana R, Eming SA, Cursiefen C

Sci Rep 2017 08;7(1):7227

PMID: 28775329


Lymphangiogenesis is essential for fluid homeostasis in vascularized tissues. In the normally avascular cornea, however, pathological lymphangiogenesis mediates diseases like corneal transplant rejection, dry eye disease, and allergy. So far, a physiological role for lymphangiogenesis in a primarily avascular site such as the cornea has not been described. Using a mouse model of perforating corneal injury that causes acute and severe fluid accumulation in the cornea, we show that lymphatics transiently and selectively invade the cornea and regulate the resolution of corneal edema. Pharmacological blockade of lymphangiogenesis via VEGFR-3 inhibition results in increased corneal thickness due to delayed drainage of corneal edema and a trend towards prolonged corneal opacification. Notably, lymphatics are also detectable in the cornea of a patient with acute edema due to spontaneous Descemet´s (basement) membrane rupture in keratoconus, mimicking this animal model and highlighting the clinical relevance of lymphangiogenesis in corneal fluid homeostasis. Together, our findings provide evidence that lymphangiogenesis plays an unexpectedly beneficial role in the regulation of corneal edema and transparency. This might open new treatment options in blinding diseases associated with corneal edema and transparency loss. Furthermore, we demonstrate for the first time that physiological lymphangiogenesis also occurs in primarily avascular sites.

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