Publication Details

Fini, M. Elizabeth., Bauskar, A., Jeong, S. & Wilson, M. R. (2016). Clusterin in the eye: an old dog with new tricks at the ocular surface. Experimental Eye Research, 147 57-71.


The multifunctional protein clusterin (CLU) was first described in 1983 as a secreted glycoprotein present in ram rete testis fluid that enhanced aggregation ('clustering') of a variety of cells in vitro. It was also independently discovered in a number of other systems. By the early 1990s, CLU was known under many names and its expression had been demonstrated throughout the body, including in the eye. Its homeostatic activities in proteostasis, cytoprotection, and anti-inflammation have been well documented, however its roles in health and disease are still not well understood. CLU is prominent at fluid-tissue interfaces, and in 1996 it was demonstrated to be the most highly expressed transcript in the human cornea, the protein product being localized to the apical layers of the mucosal epithelia of the cornea and conjunctiva. CLU protein is also present in human tears. Using a preclinical mouse model for desiccating stress that mimics human dry eye disease, the authors recently demonstrated that CLU prevents and ameliorates ocular surface barrier disruption by a remarkable sealing mechanism dependent on attainment of a critical all-or-none concentration in the tears. When the CLU level drops below the critical all-or-none threshold, the barrier becomes vulnerable to desiccating stress. CLU binds selectively to the ocular surface subjected to desiccating stress in vivo, and in vitro to LGALS3 (galectin-3), a key barrier component. Positioned in this way, CLU not only physically seals the ocular surface barrier, but it also protects the barrier cells and prevents further damage to barrier structure. CLU depletion from the ocular surface epithelia is seen in a variety of inflammatory conditions in humans and mice that lead to squamous metaplasia and a keratinized epithelium. This suggests that CLU might have a specific role in maintaining mucosal epithelial differentiation, an idea that can now be tested using the mouse model for desiccating stress. Most excitingly, the new findings suggest that CLU could serve as a novel biotherapeutic for dry eye disease.



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