To determine the impact of the loss of syndecan 1 (SDC1) on intraepithelial corneal nerves (ICNs) during homeostasis, aging, and in response to 1.5-mm trephine and debridement injury.
Whole-mount corneas are used to quantify ICN density and thickness over time after birth and in response to injury in SDC1-null and wild-type (WT) mice. High-resolution three-dimensional imaging is used to visualize intraepithelial nerve terminals (INTs), axon fragments, and lysosomes in corneal epithelial cells using antibodies against growth associated protein 43 (GAP43), βIII tubulin, and LAMP1. Quantitative PCR was performed to quantify expression of SDC1, SDC2, SDC3, and SDC4 in corneal epithelial mRNA. Phagocytosis was assessed by quantifying internalization of fluorescently labeled 1-μm latex beads.
Intraepithelial corneal nerves innervate the corneas of SDC1-null mice more slowly. At 8 weeks, ICN density is less but thickness is greater. Apically projecting intraepithelial nerve terminals and lysosome-associated membrane glycoprotein 1 (LAMP1) are also reduced in unwounded SDC1-null corneas. Quantitative PCR and immunofluorescence studies show that SDC3 expression and localization are increased in SDC1-null ICNs. Wild-type and SDC1-null corneas lose ICN density and thickness as they age. Recovery of axon density and thickness after trephine but not debridement wounds is slower in SDC1-null corneas compared with WT. Experiments assessing phagocytosis show reduced bead internalization by SDC1-null epithelial cells.
Syndecan-1 deficiency alters ICN morphology and homeostasis during aging, reduces epithelial phagocytosis, and impairs reinnervation after trephine but not debridement injury. These data provide insight into the mechanisms used by sensory nerves to reinnervate after injury.