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Distinct gene subsets in pterygia formation and recurrence: dissecting complex biological phenomenon using genome wide expression data

Louis Tong1, Jaime Chew1, Henry Yang2, Leonard PK Ang134, Donald TH Tan134 and Roger W Beuerman14*

Author Affiliations

1 Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI), Singapore National Eye Center, Singapore

2 Transcriptomics Platform, Singapore Immunology Network, Singapore

3 Department of Cornea and External eye disease, Singapore National Eye Center, Singapore

4 Department of Ophthalmology, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore

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BMC Medical Genomics 2009, 2:14  doi:10.1186/1755-8794-2-14

Published: 10 March 2009



Pterygium is a common ocular surface disease characterized by fibrovascular invasion of the cornea and is sight-threatening due to astigmatism, tear film disturbance, or occlusion of the visual axis. However, the mechanisms for formation and post-surgical recurrence of pterygium are not understood, and a valid animal model does not exist. Here, we investigated the possible mechanisms of pterygium pathogenesis and recurrence.


First we performed a genome wide expression analysis (human Affymetrix Genechip, >22000 genes) with principal component analysis and clustering techniques, and validated expression of key molecules with PCR. The controls for this study were the un-involved conjunctival tissue of the same eye obtained during the surgical resection of the lesions. Interesting molecules were further investigated with immunohistochemistry, Western blots, and comparison with tear proteins from pterygium patients.


Principal component analysis in pterygium indicated a signature of matrix-related structural proteins, including fibronectin-1 (both splice-forms), collagen-1A2, keratin-12 and small proline rich protein-1. Immunofluorescence showed strong expression of keratin-6A in all layers, especially the superficial layers, of pterygium epithelium, but absent in the control, with up-regulation and nuclear accumulation of the cell adhesion molecule CD24 in the pterygium epithelium. Western blot shows increased protein expression of beta-microseminoprotein, a protein up-regulated in human cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. Gene products of 22 up-regulated genes in pterygium have also been found by us in human tears using nano-electrospray-liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry after pterygium surgery. Recurrent disease was associated with up-regulation of sialophorin, a negative regulator of cell adhesion, and never in mitosis a-5, known to be involved in cell motility.


Aberrant wound healing is therefore a key process in this disease, and strategies in wound remodeling may be appropriate in halting pterygium or its recurrence. For patients demonstrating a profile of 'recurrence', it may be necessary to manage as a poorer prognostic case and perhaps, more adjunctive treatment after resection of the primary lesion.