Oxidative stress markers induced by hyperosmolarity in primary human corneal epithelial cells

Ruzhi Deng, Xia Hua, Jin Li, Wei Chi, Zongduan Zhang, Fan Lu, Lili Zhang, Stephen C Pflugfelder, De-Quan Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


Oxidative stress has been known to be involved in pathogenesis of dry eye disease. However, few studies have comprehensively investigated the relationship between hyperosmolarity and oxidative damage in human ocular surface. This study was to explore whether and how hyperosmolarity induces oxidative stress markers in primary human corneal epithelial cells (HCECs). Primary HCECs were established from donor limbal explants. The hyperosmolarity model was made in HCECs cultured in isosmolar (312 mOsM) or hyperosmotic (350, 400, 450 mOsM) media. Production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), oxidative damage markers, oxygenases and anti-oxidative enzymes were analyzed by DCFDA kit, RT-qPCR, immunofluorescent and immunohistochemical staining and Western blotting. Compared to isosmolar medium, ROS production significantly increased at time- and osmolarity-dependent manner in HCECs exposed to media with increasing osmolarities (350-450 mOsM). Hyperosmolarity significantly induced oxidative damage markers in cell membrane with increased toxic products of lipid peroxidation, 4-hydroxynonenal (4-HNE) and malondialdehyde (MDA), and in nuclear and mitochondria DNA with increased aconitase-2 and 8-OHdG. Hyperosmotic stress also increased the mRNA expression and protein production of heme oxygenase-1 (HMOX1) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2), but reduced the levels of antioxidant enzymes, superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD1), and glutathione peroxidase-1 (GPX1). In conclusion, our comprehensive findings demonstrate that hyperosmolarity induces oxidative stress in HCECs by stimulating ROS production and disrupting the balance of oxygenases and antioxidant enzymes, which in turn cause cell damage with increased oxidative markers in membrane lipid peroxidation and mitochondrial DNA damage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e0126561
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 29 2015


  • Antioxidants/metabolism
  • Biomarkers/metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cornea/cytology
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA, Mitochondrial/metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells/metabolism
  • Eye Diseases/metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lipid Peroxidation
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Oxygenases/metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger/metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species/metabolism


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