We previously reported that genetic deletion of β-catenin in mouse corneal keratocytes resulted in precocious corneal epithelial stratification. In this study, to strengthen the notion that corneal keratocyte-derived Wnt/β-catenin signaling regulates corneal epithelial stratification during mouse development, we examined the consequence of conditional overexpression of a stabilized β-catenin mutant (Ctnnb1 ΔE3 ) in corneal keratocytes via a doxycycline (Dox)-inducible compound transgenic mouse strain. Histological analysis showed that conditional overexpression of Ctnnb1 ΔE3 in keratocytes inhibited corneal epithelial stratification during postnatal development. Unlike the corneal epithelium of the littermate controls, which consisted of 5-6 cell layers at postnatal day 21 (P21), the mutant corneal epithelium contained 1-2 or 2-3 cell layers after Dox induction from embryonic day 0 (E0) to P21 and from E9 to P21, respectively. X-gal staining revealed that Wnt/β-catenin signaling activity was significantly elevated in the corneal keratocytes of the Dox-induced mutant mice, compared to the littermate controls. Furthermore, RT-qPCR and immunostaining data indicated that the expression of Bmp4 and ΔNp63 was downregulated in the mutant corneas, which was associated with reduced corneal epithelial proliferation in mutant epithelium, as revealed by immunofluorescent staining. However, the expression of Krt12, Krt14 and Pax6 in the mutant corneas was not altered after overexpression of Ctnnb1 ΔE3 mutant protein in corneal keratocytes. Overall, mutant β-catenin accumulation in the corneal keratocytes inhibited corneal epithelial stratification probably through downregulation of Bmp4 and ΔNp63 in the corneal epithelium.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The present study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health/National Eye Institute (NIH/NEI) R01 EY21501, EY23086. We thank Dr. Mindy Call (University of Cincinnati/Department of Ophthalmology) kindly did the proofreading of this manuscript.