Rapamycin inhibits the production of myofibroblasts and reduces corneal scarring after photorefractive keratectomy

Behrad Y. Milani, Farnoud Y. Milani, Dong wouk Park, Abed Namavari, Jarna Shah, Hossein Amirjamshidi, Hongyu Ying, Ali R. Djalilian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Purpose. Corneal stromal scarring partly involves the production of corneal myofibroblasts. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of rapamycin (an inhibitor of the mammalian target of rapamycin [mTOR] pathway) on myofibroblast formation in vitro and in-vivo. Methods. Human corneal fibroblasts were grown in culture and transformed into myofibroblasts using TGF-β (2 ng/mL). The phosphorylation (activation) of the mTOR pathway was examined by immunoblotting. Cell proliferation with and without rapamycin was examined by thiazolyl blue tetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay and Ki67 staining. The expression of the myofibroblast differentiation marker smooth muscle actin (SMA) was examined by immunostaining and immunoblotting. The functional effects of rapamycin were measured using a gel contraction assay. For in vivo studies, 140 μm laser ablation was performed on rabbit corneas followed by subconjunctival rapamycin or vehicle. Corneal haze development was graded at 4 weeks, while the expression of myofibroblast markers was examined by immunostaining and immunoblotting. Results. The TGF-β activated the mTOR pathway with peak phosphorylation at 2 to 4 hours. Treatment of corneal fibroblasts with rapamycin reduced their proliferation by 46% compared to control. Rapamycin significantly inhibited TGF-β-induced expression of myofibroblast markers (17.2% SMA positive cells with rapamycin compared to 69.0% in control). Rapamycin also significantly inhibited TGF-β-induced collagen gel contraction. In the rabbit eyes treated with rapamycin, corneal haze development was significantly less compared to controls (0.75 ± 0.4 vs. 2.17 ± 0.7). Conclusions. Rapamycin appears to inhibit proliferation and differentiation of corneal myofibroblasts and, thus, may provide an effective therapeutic measure for preventing corneal scarring.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7424-7430
Number of pages7
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number12
StatePublished - Oct 8 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Corneal haze
  • Excimer laser
  • Rapamycin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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