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Purpose: The present study was designed to investigate the role of myofibroblast transdifferentiation and the conjunctival renin–angiotensin system (RAS) in the pathogenesis of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD)–associated conjunctival fibrosis.

Methods: A mouse model of major histocompatibility-matched allogeneic transplantation was used to induce GVHD, with male B10.D2 mice as donors and female BALB/c mice as recipients. Male BALB/c to female BALB/c syngeneic transplantation was used as control. Y chromosome staining in the spleen cells obtained from female recipient mice was used to confirm engraftment. The phenol red thread test and fluorescein staining were used to quantify tears and corneal keratopathy. Eyes were harvested at 4 and 8 weeks after the transplant for alpha-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA), angiotensinogen, and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) immunostaining. Conjunctiva was harvested for gene expression quantification of α-SMA, angiotensinogen, and ACE.

Results: More than 80% of the spleen cells in the recipient mice were chromosome Y positive, thus conforming successful engraftment. A significant decrease in tear secretion and a marked increase in corneal keratopathy score after allogeneic transplantation indicated the onset of ocular GVHD in these mice. A significant increase in α-SMA gene expression and the presence of a large number of α-SMA–positive cells was noted in the bulbar orbital conjunctiva of mice after allogeneic transplantation. Allogenic transplantation also caused a significant increase in the gene expression and protein expression of angiotensinogen and ACE in the subconjunctival eyelid area.

Conclusions: Results of the present study demonstrate that GVHD-associated conjunctival fibrosis is accompanied by myofibroblast formation and activation of the local conjunctival RAS.


This article was originally published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, volume 62, issue 13, in 2021.


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