Corneal nerve ablation abolishes ocular immune privilege by downregulating CD103 on T regulatory cells

Sudha Neelam, Jerry Y. Niederkorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


PURPOSE. Severing corneal nerves during orthotopic corneal transplantation elicits the elaboration of the neuropeptide substance P (SP), which induces the generation of CD11c+ contrasuppressor (CS) cells. CS cells disable T regulatory cells (Tregs) that are induced when antigens enter the anterior chamber (AC), either by direct injection or by orthotopic corneal transplantation. This study examined the crucial cell surface molecules on Tregs that are adversely affected by CS cells that are generated by severing corneal nerves. METHODS. CS cells were induced by producing shallow 2.0-mm circular incisions in the corneal epithelium in BALB/c mice. CD8+ Tregs were generated by injecting ovalbumin into the AC. The effects of CS cells and SP on the expression and function of two cell surface molecules (CD103 and the receptor of interferon-γ) that are crucial for the induction and function of CD8+ Tregs were analyzed. RESULTS. SP converted CD11c+, but not CD11c , dendritic cells (DCs) to CS cells. Severing corneal nerves resulted in a 66% reduction in the expression of CD103 on CD8+ AC-associated immune deviation (ACAID) Tregs, and a 50% reduction in the interferon-γ receptor (IFN-γR). These effects could be mimicked in vitro by coculturing CS cells with CD8+ ACAID Tregs. CONCLUSIONS. The elaboration of SP in response to corneal nerve ablation converts CD11c+ DCs to CS cells. CS cells disable CD8+ ACAID Tregs by downregulating two crucial cell surface molecules, CD103 and IFN-γR, by an SP-dependent pathway. Blocking this pathway may provide a means of restoring ocular immune privilege in corneas subjected to corneal nerve injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number25
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Anterior chamber
  • Contrasuppressor cells
  • Immune privilege
  • Substance P
  • Tregs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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