Assessment of corneal substrate biomechanics and its effect on epithelial stem cell maintenance and differentiation

A Nanosurf FlexAFM was used in this research published by Nature Communications. The research showed that treating the burnt surface of the cornea with collagenase effectively restores the tissue’s mechanical properties and its capacity to support LESCs through mechanisms involving YAP suppression.

Nature Communications (10), 1496 (2019)

Ricardo M. Gouveia, Guillaume Lepert, Suneel Gupta, Rajiv R. Mohan, Carl Paterson & Che J. Connon

Whilst demonstrated extensively in vitro, the control of cell behaviour via modulation of substrate compliance in live tissues has not been accomplished to date. Here we propose that stem cells can be regulated solely through in situ modulation of tissue biomechanics. By first establishing, via high-resolution Brillouin spectro-microscopy, that the outer edge (limbus) of live human corneas has a substantially lower bulk modulus compared to their centre, we then demonstrate that this difference is associated with limbal epithelial stem cell (LESC) residence and YAP-dependent mechanotransduction. This phenotype-through-biomechanics correlation is further explored in vivo using a rabbit alkali burn model. Specifically, we show that treating the burnt surface of the cornea with collagenase effectively restores the tissue’s mechanical properties and its capacity to support LESCs through mechanisms involving YAP suppression. Overall, these findings have extended implications for understanding stem cell niche biomechanics and its impact on tissue regeneration.

A Nanosurf FlexAFM was used in this research.

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