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PURPOSE. Patients with diabetes mellitus are reported to have ocular surface defects, impaired ocular surface barrier function, and a higher incidence of corneal and conjunctival infections. Tight junctions are critical for ocular surface barrier function. The present study was designed to investigate the effect of high glucose exposure on human corneal and conjunctival epithelial cell barrier function and tight junction proteins.

METHODS. Human corneal and conjunctival epithelial cells were exposed to 15 mM and 30 mM glucose for 24 and 72 hours. The barrier function was measured using transepithelial electrical resistance (TEER). The cell migration was quantified using scratch assay. The cells were harvested for protein extraction and mRNA isolation. Gene and protein expression of claudins, zonula occludens (ZOs), and occludin was quantified using realtime PCR and Western blot.

RESULTS. Glucose caused a significant decrease in TEER after 72 hours of exposure in both corneal and conjunctival epithelial cells. Glucose did not cause any notable change in migration of either corneal or conjunctival epithelial cells. Glucose exposure did not cause any notable change in protein expression of claudin-1, ZO-1, ZO-2, ZO-3, or occludin. On the other hand, 15 mM glucose caused an increase in gene expression of claudin-1, claudin-3, ZO-2, ZO-3, and occludin, a likely response to osmotic stress since 15 mM mannitol also caused consistently similar increase in gene expression of these proteins.

CONCLUSIONS. High glucose exposure causes impairment of corneal and conjunctival epithelial cell barrier function, but this detrimental effect is not caused by a decrease in expression of tight junction proteins: claudin-1, ZO-1, ZO-2, ZO-3, and occludin.


This article was originally published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, volume 61, issue 3, in 2020.


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