Alzheimer's disease (AD) primarily affects the brain and is the most common form of dementia worldwide. Despite more than a century of research, there are still no early biomarkers for AD. It has been reported that AD affects the eye, which is more accessible for imaging than the brain; however, links with the cornea have not been evaluated. To investigate whether the cornea could be used to identify possible diagnostic indicators of AD, we analyzed the proteolytic processing and isoforms of amyloid precursor protein (APP) and evaluated the expression of AD-related genes and proteins in corneal fibroblasts from wild-type (WT) corneas and corneas from patients with granular corneal dystrophy type 2 (GCD2), which is related to amyloid formation in the cornea. Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis was used to assess the expression of AD-related genes, i.e., APP, ADAM10, BACE1, BACE2, PSEN1, NCSTN, IDE, and NEP. RT-PCR and DNA sequencing analysis demonstrated that isoforms of APP770 and APP751, but not APP695, were expressed in corneal fibroblasts. Moreover, the mRNA ratio of APP770/APP751 isoforms was approximately 4:1. Western blot analysis also demonstrated the expression of a disintegrin and metalloprotease domain-containing protein 10 (ADAM10), beta-site APP-cleaving enzyme 1 (BACE1), nicastrin, insulin degradation enzyme, and neprilysin in corneal fibroblasts. Among these targets, the levels of immature ADAM10 and BACE1 protein were significantly increased in GCD2 cells. The expression levels of APP, ADAM10, BACE1, and transforming growth factor-beta-induced protein (TGFBIp) were also detected by western blot in human corneal epithelium. We also investigated the effects of inhibition of the autophagy-lysosomal and ubiquitin-proteasomal proteolytic systems (UPS) on APP processing and metabolism. These pathway inhibitors accumulated APP, α-carboxy-terminal fragments (CTFs), β-CTFs, and the C-terminal APP intracellular domain (AICD) in corneal fibroblasts. Analysis of microRNAs (miRNAs) revealed that miR-9 and miR-181a negatively coregulated BACE1 and TGFBIp, which was directly associated with the pathogenesis of AD and GCD2, respectively. Immunohistochemical analysis indicated that APP and BACE1 were distributed in corneal stroma cells, epithelial cells, and the retinal layer in mice. Collectively, we propose that the cornea, which is the transparent outermost layer of the eye and thus offers easy accessibility, could be used as a potential biomarker for AD diagnosis and progression.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Sensory Systems
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience