Purpose: Variant B precursor cysteine protease inhibitor cystatin C, a known recessive risk factor for developing exudative age-related macular degeneration (AMD), presents altered intracellular trafficking and reduced secretion from retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells. Because cystatin C inhibits multiple extracellular matrix (ECM)-degrading cathepsins, this study evaluated the role of this mutation in inducing ECM-related functional changes in RPE cellular behavior.
Methods: Induced pluripotent stem cells gene-edited bi-allelically by CRISPR/Cas9 to express the AMD-linked cystatin C variant were differentiated to RPE cells and assayed for their ability to degrade fluorescently labeled ECM proteins. Cellular migration and adhesion on multiple ECM proteins, differences in transepithelial resistance and polarized protein secretion were tested. Vessel formation induced by gene edited cells-conditioned media was quantified using primary human dermal microvascular epithelial cells.
Results: Variant B cystatin C-expressing induced pluripotent stem cells-derived RPE cells displayed a significantly higher rate of laminin and fibronectin degradation 3 days after seeding on fluorescently labeled ECM (P < 0.05). Migration on matrigel, collagen IV and fibronectin was significantly faster for edited cells compared with wild-type (WT) cells. Both edited and WT cells displayed polarized secretion of cystatin C, but transepithelial resistance was lower in gene-edited cells after 6 weeks culture, with significantly lower expression of tight junction protein claudin-3. Media conditioned by gene-edited cells stimulated formation of significantly longer microvascular tubes (P < 0.05) compared with WT-conditioned media.
Conclusions: Reduced levels of cystatin C lead to changes in the RPE ability to degrade, adhere, and migrate supporting increased invasiveness and angiogenesis relevant for AMD pathology.
- Cell Movement/physiology
- Cells, Cultured
- Cystatin C/genetics
- Gene Editing
- Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells/physiology
- Macular Degeneration/pathology
- Point Mutation/genetics
- Retinal Pigment Epithelium/cytology