Aberrant DNA methylation of miRNAs in Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy. Sci Rep 2019;9(1):16385.Abstract.
Homeostatic maintenance of corneal endothelial cells is essential for maintenance of corneal deturgescence and transparency. In Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy (FECD), an accelerated loss and dysfunction of endothelial cells leads to progressively severe visual impairment. An abnormal accumulation of extracellular matrix (ECM) is a distinctive hallmark of the disease, however the molecular pathogenic mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are not fully understood. Here, we investigate genome-wide and sequence-specific DNA methylation changes of miRNA genes in corneal endothelial samples from FECD patients. We discover that miRNA gene promoters are frequent targets of aberrant DNA methylation in FECD. More specifically, miR-199B is extensively hypermethylated and its mature transcript miR-199b-5p was previously found to be almost completely silenced in FECD. Furthermore, we find that miR-199b-5p directly and negatively regulates Snai1 and ZEB1, two zinc finger transcription factors that lead to increased ECM deposition in FECD. Taken together, these findings suggest a novel epigenetic regulatory mechanism of matrix protein production by corneal endothelial cells in which miR-199B hypermethylation leads to miR-199b-5p downregulation and thereby the increased expression of its target genes, including Snai1 and ZEB1. Our results support miR-199b-5p as a potential therapeutic target to prevent or slow down the progression of FECD disease.