The long-term goal of our laboratory is to develop strategies to restore and maintain the integrity of the corneal epithelium. Activation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is necessary and sufficient for the homeostasis and repair of the corneal epithelium. Despite evidence that the EGFR is a viable target for corneal epithelial wound healing, its use therapeutically has been limited. Understanding the molecular details of how signaling by the receptor is regulated will provide clues for utilizing EGFR-targeted therapies. One such regulatory mechanism is ligand-stimulated EGFR endocytosis. The internalization and subsequent endocytic trafficking of the receptor negatively controls EGFR signaling by targeting the active receptor to lysosomes for degradation. Our studies will determine how endocytosis affects EGFR signaling in the corneal epithelium. Based on our recent findings and reports in the literature, we propose the following hypothesis: slowing the endocytic trafficking of the liganded EGFR will prolong EGFR signaling and enhance corneal wound healing. This overall hypothesis will be tested with the following Aims.
In Aim 1, we will test the hypothesis that different endogenous EGFR ligands possess different routes and/or kinetics of endocytic trafficking. Secondarily, we will determine if those ligands that promote EGFR recycling will enhance corneal epithelial cell migration and wound healing. Using immortalized and primary human corneal epithelial cells, we will examine the kinetics and routes of EGFR endocytic trafficking in response to endogenous EGFR ligands. These ligands have been reported to have varying kinetics and/or routes of EGFR endocytic trafficking in other cell lines. The effect of these ligands on EGFR endocytic trafficking in corneal epithelial cells is unknown due to differences in the level of EGFR expression and intrinsic properties of the corneal epithelial cells. Once we determine how these ligands impact EGFR endocytic trafficking in the corneal epithelium, we will determine how they affect the cell biology of corneal epithelial cells (cell migration) and corneal wound healing using an in vivo model (Sprague- Dawley rats).
In Aim 2, we will test the hypothesis that the inhibition of EGFR endocytic trafficking will prolong receptor activity and enhance the rate of corneal epithelial cell migration and wound healing. Using the tissue culture cells described above, we will disrupt endocytic trafficking at selected stages in the endocytic pathway (at the plasma membrane, pre-early endosome, and in the late endosome/multivesicular body) and assess whether the phosphorylation of the EGFR and downstream effectors is prolonged. Next, we will determine if such changes are reflected in EGFR-mediated corneal epithelial cell migration and wound healing.
In Aim 3, we will determine if other EGFR family members (ErbB2, 3, and 4) play a role in promoting corneal wound healing, if they do so more efficaciously that EGFR. If we are able to develop strategies for enhancing EGFR signaling, we have the potential for therapeutically accelerating the rate of corneal wound healing and minimize patient discomfort, the risk of infection, and blindness.

Public Health Relevance

The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) promotes cellular changes in the cornea epithelium, such as cell growth, proliferation, and migration, but has clinical limitations in promoting corneal wound healing. The goal of this research is to develop strategies to better use the EGFR as a therapeutic target by 1) identifying the molecular mechanisms that regulate EGFR signaling in the cornea and 2) by-pass those regulatory mechanisms to prolong EGFR signaling, accelerate corneal wound healing, and restore tissue homeostasis.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Eye Institute (NEI)
Research Project (R01)
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Anterior Eye Disease Study Section (AED)
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Mckie, George Ann
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University of Louisville
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Neves, Luís F; Duan, Jinghua; Voelker, Adrienne et al. (2016) Preparation and optimisation of anionic liposomes for delivery of small peptides and cDNA to human corneal epithelial cells. J Microencapsul 33:391-9
Wiechmann, Allan F; Ceresa, Brian P; Howard, Eric W (2014) Diurnal variation of tight junction integrity associates inversely with matrix metalloproteinase expression in Xenopus laevis corneal epithelium: implications for circadian regulation of homeostatic surface cell desquamation. PLoS One 9:e113810
Peterson, Joanne L; Phelps, Eric D; Doll, Mark A et al. (2014) The role of endogenous epidermal growth factor receptor ligands in mediating corneal epithelial homeostasis. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 55:2870-80
Rush, Jamie S; Boeving, Michael A; Berry, William L et al. (2014) Antagonizing c-Cbl enhances EGFR-dependent corneal epithelial homeostasis. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 55:4691-9
Ceresa, Brian P; Peterson, Joanne L (2014) Cell and molecular biology of epidermal growth factor receptor. Int Rev Cell Mol Biol 313:145-78
Parks, Eileen E; Ceresa, Brian P (2014) Cell surface epidermal growth factor receptors increase Src and c-Cbl activity and receptor ubiquitylation. J Biol Chem 289:25537-45
Rush, Jamie S; Ceresa, Brian P (2013) RAB7 and TSG101 are required for the constitutive recycling of unliganded EGFRs via distinct mechanisms. Mol Cell Endocrinol 381:188-97
Ceresa, Brian P (2012) Spatial regulation of epidermal growth factor receptor signaling by endocytosis. Int J Mol Sci 14:72-87