The purpose of this review was to provide detailed insights into the pathophysiology of myofibroblast-mediated fibrosis (scarring or late haze) after corneal injury, surgery, or infection.
The epithelium and epithelial basement membrane (EBM) and/or endothelium and Descemet's basement membrane (BM) are commonly disrupted after corneal injuries, surgeries, and infections. Regeneration of these critical regulatory structures relies on the coordinated production of BM components, including laminins, nidogens, perlecan, and collagen type IV by epithelial, endothelial, and keratocyte cells. Whether a cornea, or an area in the cornea, heals with transparency or fibrosis may be determined by whether there is injury to one or both corneal basement membranes (EBM and/or Descemet's BM) and delayed or defective regeneration or replacement of the BM. These opaque myofibroblasts, and the disordered extracellular matrix these cells produce, persist in the stroma until the EBM and/or Descemet's BM is regenerated or replaced.
Corneal stromal fibrosis (also termed “stromal scarring” or “late haze”) occurs as a consequence of BM injury and defective regeneration in both the anterior (EBM) and posterior (Descemet's BM) cornea. The resolution of fibrosis and return of stromal transparency depends on reestablished BM structure and function. It is hypothesized that defective regeneration of the EBM or Descemet's BM allows key profibrotic growth factors, including transforming growth factor beta-1 (TGF-β1) and TGF-β2, to penetrate the stroma at sustained levels necessary to drive the development and maintenance of mature opacity-producing myofibroblasts from myofibroblast precursors cells, and studies suggest that perlecan and collagen type IV are the critical components in EBM and Descemet's BM that bind TGF-β1, TGF-β2, platelet-derived growth factor, and possibly other growth factors, and regulate their bioavailability and function during homeostasis and corneal wound healing.