Purpose: Nitric oxide (NO) is capable of promoting either cell death or cell survival depending on cell type and experimental conditions. In this study, the possible effects of NO on the viability of lens epithelial cells were investigated in an explant model used previously to identify cellular changes associated with posterior capsule opacification following cataract surgery.
Methods: Rat lens epithelial explants prepared from weanling rats were cultured in a serum-free medium for five days with or without the addition of the nitric oxide synthase inhibitor, L-Nω-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME), using the inactive enantiomer D-NAME as a control. Alternatively, explants were cultured for nine days with or without the NO donor, sodium nitroprusside. Explants were assessed morphologically and immunohistochemically or by determining DNA content.
Results: In the presence of L-NAME but not in controls, progressive rounding up and detachment of cells from the lens capsule occurred, leading to extensive cell loss. Affected cells showed apoptosis-like cell-surface blebbing and nuclear fragmentation. Conversely, inclusion of sodium nitroprusside suppressed the morphological changes and spontaneous cell loss that occurred when sparsely covered explants were cultured for nine days, increased cell coverage fourfold during that period, and prevented the expression of the transdifferentiation markers α-smooth muscle actin and fibronectin. In addition, whereas L-NAME exacerbated cell loss induced by culturing with 50 pg/ml transforming growth factor-β2, sodium nitroprusside offered protection.
Conclusions: This study points to a previously unidentified role for NO as an endogenously produced survival factor for lens epithelial cells, raising the possibility of using NO deprivation as a means of removing residual lens cells following cataract surgery and thereby preventing posterior capsule opacification.