Effects of Mechanical Compression on Cell Morphology and Function in Human Corneal Fibroblasts

Jing Zhang, Shu Yang, Youhua Tan, Yan Wang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: To explore the effect of mechanical compression (similar to that induced by eye rubbing) on cell morphology, proliferation, apoptosis, and extracellular matrix synthesis and degradation in human corneal fibroblasts. Materials and methods: Human corneal fibroblasts were isolated from corneal lenticule tissue of 10 patients after small incision lenticule extraction surgery. A system was established to mechanically compress corneal fibroblasts with pressure ranging from 0 to 524 Pa. Morphological changes, cell proliferation, apoptosis, and corneal matrix synthesis and degradation were examined using microscopy imaging, bromodeoxyuridine staining, flow cytometry, and qPCR analysis in human corneal fibroblasts after mechanical compression. Results: Human corneal fibroblasts showed short and thick cytoplasmic extensions, as well as a relatively low aspect ratio, suggesting significant morphological alterations caused by high levels of compressive stress. Mechanical compression inhibited cell proliferation and promoted cell apoptosis. Furthermore, compressive stress led to significant elevation in the expression of genes related to extracellular matrix degradation (matrix metalloproteinases MMP1 and MMP9) as early as 6 h after compression and moderate changes in the expression of tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases. In addition, the mRNA expression levels of COL1A1, lumican, and vimentin were reduced 24 and 48 h after mechanical compression. Conclusions: Mechanical compression alters cell morphology, inhibits proliferation, induces apoptosis, upregulates genes related to extracellular matrix degradation, and downregulates corneal structural genes in human corneal fibroblasts. This study provides evidence that compressive stress significantly influences corneal keratocytes. Our findings suggest that this mechanical effect may be related to keratoconus associated with chronic eye rubbing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1467-1473
Number of pages7
JournalCurrent Eye Research
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2021


  • corneal fibroblasts
  • extracellular matrix
  • eye rubbing
  • keratoconus
  • Mechanical compression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Effects of Mechanical Compression on Cell Morphology and Function in Human Corneal Fibroblasts'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this