PURPOSE. To evaluate the occurrence and time course of hem-and lymphangiogenesis after normal-risk corneal transplantation in the mouse model and to test whether pharmacologic strategies inhibiting both processes improve long-term graft survival. METHODS. Normal-risk allogeneic (C57BL/6 to BALB/c) and syngeneic (BALB/c to BALB/c) corneal transplantations were performed and occurrence and time course of hem- and lymphangiogenesis after keratoplasty was observed, by using double immunofluorescence of corneal flatmounts (with CD31 as a panendothelial and LYVE-1 as a lymphatic vascular endothelium-specific marker). A molecular trap designed to eliminate VEGF-A (VEGF Trap R1R2; 12.5 mg/kg) was tested for its ability to inhibit both processes after keratoplasty and to promote long-term graft survival (intraperitoneal injections on the day of surgery and 3, 7, and 14 days later). RESULTS. No blood or lymph vessels were detectable immediately after normal-risk transplantation in either donor or host cornea, but hem- and lymphangiogenesis were clearly visible at day 3 after transplantation. Both vessel types reached donor tissue at 1 week after allografting and similarly after syngeneic grafting. Early postoperative trapping of VEGF-A significantly reduced both hem- and lymphangiogenesis and significantly improved long-term graft survival (78% vs. 40%; P < 0.05). CONCLUSIONS. There is concurrent, VEGF-A-dependent hem- and lymphangiogenesis after normal-risk keratoplasty within the preoperatively avascular recipient bed. Inhibition of hem- and lymphangiogenesis (afferent and efferent arm of an immune response) after normal-risk corneal transplantation improves long-term graft survival, establishing early postoperative hem-and lymphangiogenesis as novel risk factors for graft rejection even in low-risk eyes.
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