Publication Date





AIMS/HYPOTHESIS: Diabetes is associated with epigenetic modifications including DNA methylation and miRNA changes. Diabetic complications in the cornea can cause persistent epithelial defects and impaired wound healing due to limbal epithelial stem cell (LESC) dysfunction. In this study, we aimed to uncover epigenetic alterations in diabetic vs non-diabetic human limbal epithelial cells (LEC) enriched in LESC and identify new diabetic markers that can be targeted for therapy to normalise corneal epithelial wound healing and stem cell expression.

METHODS: Human LEC were isolated, or organ-cultured corneas were obtained, from autopsy eyes from non-diabetic (59.87±20.89 years) and diabetic (71.93±9.29 years) donors. The groups were not statistically different in age. DNA was extracted from LEC for methylation analysis using Illumina Infinium 850K MethylationEPIC BeadChip and protein was extracted for Wnt phospho array analysis. Wound healing was studied using a scratch assay in LEC or 1-heptanol wounds in organ-cultured corneas. Organ-cultured corneas and LEC were transfected with WNT5A siRNA, miR-203a mimic or miR-203a inhibitor or were treated with recombinant Wnt-5a (200 ng/ml), DNA methylation inhibitor zebularine (1-20 µmol/l) or biodegradable nanobioconjugates (NBCs) based on polymalic acid scaffold containing antisense oligonucleotide (AON) to miR-203a or a control scrambled AON (15-20 µmol/l).

RESULTS: There was significant differential DNA methylation between diabetic and non-diabetic LEC. WNT5A promoter was hypermethylated in diabetic LEC accompanied with markedly decreased Wnt-5a protein. Treatment of diabetic LEC and organ-cultured corneas with exogenous Wnt-5a accelerated wound healing by 1.4-fold (p

CONCLUSIONS/INTERPRETATION: We provide the first account of epigenetic changes in diabetic corneas including dual inhibition of WNT5A by DNA methylation and miRNA action. Overall, Wnt-5a is a new corneal epithelial wound healing stimulator that can be targeted to improve wound healing and stem cells in the diabetic cornea.


Humans, Epigenetic Repression, Wnt-5a Protein, Diabetes Mellitus, MicroRNAs, Stem Cells, RNA, Small Interfering, Wound Healing, Epithelial Cells


The DNA methylation dataset is available from the public GEO repository under accession no. GSE229328 (

PMID: 37460827



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.