Keratocytes, the quiescent cells of the corneal stroma, play a crucial role in corneal wound healing. Neuropeptides and neurotransmitters are usually associated with neuronal signaling, but have recently been shown to be produced also by non-neuronal cells and to be involved in many cellular processes. The aim of this study was to assess the endogenous intracellular and secreted levels of the neuropeptides substance P (SP) and neurokinin A (NKA), and of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine (ACh), catecholamines (adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine), and glutamate, as well as the expression profiles of their receptors, in human primary keratocytes in vitro and in keratocytes of human corneal tissue sections in situ. Cultured keratocytes expressed genes encoding for SP and NKA, and for catecholamine and glutamate synthesizing enzymes, as well as genes for neuropeptide, adrenergic and ACh (muscarinic) receptors. Keratocytes in culture produced SP, NKA, catecholamines, ACh, and glutamate, and expressed neurokinin-1 and -2 receptors (NK-1R and NK-2R), dopamine receptor D-2, muscarinic ACh receptors, and NDMAR1 glutamate receptor. Human corneal sections expressed SP, NKA, NK-1R, NK-2R, receptor D2, choline acetyl transferase (ChAT), M-3, M4 and M-5 muscarinic ACh receptors, glutamate, and NMDAR1, but not catecholamine synthesizing enzyme or the alpha(1) and beta(2) adrenoreceptors, nor M1 receptor. In addition, expression profiles assumed significant differences between keratocytes from the peripheral cornea as compared to those from the central cornea, as well as differences between keratocytes cultured under various serum concentrations. In conclusion, human keratocytes express an array of neuropeptides and neurotransmitters. The cells furthermore express receptors for neuropeptides/neurotransmitters, which suggests that they are susceptible to stimulation by these substances in the cornea, whether of neuronal or non-neuronal origin. As it has been shown that neuropeptides/neurotransmitters are involved in cell proliferation, migration, and angiogenesis, it is possible that they play a role in corneal wound healing.
Public library science , 2015. Vol. 10, no 7, e0134157