Live cell imaging demonstrates the role of purinoreceptor P2X7 in actin cytoskeletal rearrangements and focal adhesion dynamics after injury in corneal epithelial cells
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The cornea forms the anterior surface of the eye and is responsible for most of the eye’s refractive power. Injury to the outermost layer of the cornea, a non-keratinized stratified squamous epithelium, triggers a transient rise in intracellular calcium concentration that propagates radially from the wound. This calcium mobilization is initiated by the binding of nucleotides such as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which are released from cells ruptured by the injury, to purinergic receptors (purinoreceptors) on undamaged cells near the wound. Downstream effects of this injury-induced "calcium wave" are generally thought to include the activation of signaling pathways that promote wound healing. However, the specific contributions of individual purinergic receptors to the overall wound response have in most cases not been well characterized. Purinoreceptors are classified into two broad categories: the P2Y class of G protein-coupled receptors, which act through second messengers to release calcium into the cytosol from the endoplasmic reticulum, and the P2X class of ligand-gated ionotropic receptors, which release calcium into the cytosol from the extracellular environment. Previously, our lab established the importance of the P2Y2 receptor to corneal epithelial wound healing by showing that P2Y2 activation makes a substantial contribution to the overall wound-induced calcium response, particularly in cells back from the leading edge, and promotes cell migration after injury. P2Y2 activation was also found to promote the phosphorylation of proteins involved in focal adhesions, which are multi-protein complexes that facilitate cell migration by transmitting the forces generated by the actin cytoskeleton to the extracellular environment. More recently, our lab has begun to demonstrate that P2X7 may play an equally important, yet distinct and perhaps complementary role in corneal epithelial wound healing. For instance, P2X7 was found to strongly influence the intensity of the injury-induced calcium response in cells immediately adjacent to the wound, and treatment with the P2X7 inhibitor oxidized ATP (oxATP) was shown to impair migration after injury both in vitro and in ex vivo rat corneas. Additionally, immunofluorescence of cells fixed eight hours after injury revealed an altered actin cytoskeletal architecture and localization of the focal adhesion proteins talin and vinculin in oxATP-treated cells compared to control cells. The goal of the present study was to further characterize P2X7’s role in the overall response to injury by using live cell imaging to examine actin cytoskeletal rearrangements and focal adhesion dynamics after injury under both control conditions and conditions of P2X7 inhibition. Human corneal limbal epithelial (HCLE) cells were transduced to express either actin or talin tagged with green fluorescent protein (GFP), grown into confluent monolayers, and scratch wounded in the presence or absence of oxATP. Cells at the leading edge of the wound were imaged using confocal microscopy every 10 minutes for 4 hours beginning 0.5 hours after injury. Analysis of the resulting actin-GFP movies revealed trends toward delayed extension of filopodia in oxATP-treated cells relative to control cells, as well as complex changes in the number of filopodia per cell over time. Additionally, while both groups formed lamella containing thick actin bundles that were oriented perpendicularly to the direction of migration, in oxATP-treated cells the formation of these structures was delayed. Furthermore, in oxATP-treated cells these actin bundles tended to persist once formed. This was in contrast to control cells, in which they tended to turn over to be replaced by thinner and shorter actin bundles that were oriented more obliquely relative to the direction of migration. Finally, analysis of talin-GFP movies demonstrated that focal adhesion lifespan was extended in oxATP-treated cells compared to control cells. Focal adhesions in oxATP-treated cells also exhibited a greater propensity to merge together or split apart, further suggesting impaired focal adhesion turnover. Overall, these findings suggest that P2X7 plays a critical role in promoting migration after corneal epithelial injury by coordinating rapid rearrangements of the actin cytoskeleton and turnover of focal adhesions at the leading edge.