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Experimental Eye Research


The goal of this study was to elucidate the pathway by which UVB initiates efflux of K+ and subsequently apoptosis in human corneal limbal epithelial (HCLE) cells. The initial focus of the study was on the extrinsic pathway involving Fas. HCLE cells transfected with Fas siRNA were exposed to 80-150 mJ/cm2 UVB and incubated in culture medium with 5.5 mM K+. Knockdown of Fas resulted in limited reduction in UVB-induced caspase-8 and -3 activity. Patch-clamp recordings showed no difference in UVB-induced normalized K+ currents between Fas transfected and control cells. Knockdown of caspase-8 had no effect on the activation of caspase-3 following UVB exposure, while a caspase-8 inhibitor completely eliminated UVB activation of caspase-3. This suggests that caspase-8 is a robust enzyme, able to activate caspase-3 via residual caspase-8 present after knockdown, and that caspase-8 is directly involved in the UVB activation of caspase-3. Inhibition of caspase-9 significantly decreased the activation of caspases-8 and -3 in response to UVB. Knockdown of Apaf-1, required for activation of caspase-9, resulted in a significant reduction in UVB-induced activation of caspases-9, -8, and -3. Knockdown of Apaf-1 also inhibited intrinsic and UVB-induced levels of apoptosis, as determined by DNA fragmentation measured by TUNEL assay. In UVB exposed cultures treated with caspase-3 inhibitor, the percentage of apoptotic cells was reduced to control levels, confirming the necessity of caspase-3 activation in DNA fragmentation. The lack of effect of Fas knockdown on K+ channel activation, as well as the limited effect on activation of caspases-8 and -3, strongly suggest that Fas and the extrinsic pathway is not of primary importance in the initiation of apoptosis in response to UVB in HCLE cells. Inhibition of caspase-8 and -3 activation following inhibition of caspase-9, as well as reduction in activation of caspases-9, -8, and -3 and DNA fragmentation in response to Apaf-1 knockdown support the conclusion that the intrinsic pathway is more important in UVB-induced apoptosis in HCLE cells.

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