Effect of Epidermal Growth Factor, Hepatocyte Growth Factor, and Keratinocyte Growth Factor, on Proliferation, Motility and Differentiation of Human Corneal Epithelial Cells

Steven E. Wilson, Yu Guang He, Jian Weng, James D. Zieske, James V. Jester, Gregory S. Schultz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

235 Scopus citations


We sought to determine the effects of exogenous epidermal growth factor (EGF), heparin-binding EGF (HB-EGF), transforming growth factor alpha (TGF-alpha), single-chain precursor hepatocyte growth factor (SC-HGF), double-chain mature HGF (DC-HGF), and keratinocyte growth factor (KGF) on proliferation, motility, and differentiation of first passage cultures of human corneal epithelial cells in serum-free chemically defined medium. The effect of EGF, HB-EGF, TGF-alpha, SC-HGF, DC-HGF, KGF or combinations of the growth factors on proliferation was measured by counting cells present after 3 weeks of culture and by immunostaining for the cell-cycle-specific nuclear proliferation antigen Ki-67. The effect of the factors on epithelial cell motility was assessed by morphometric analysis of photographs of cells migrating from confluent islands of cells. The effect of growth factors on differentiation of epithelial cells were determined by immunostaining epithelial cell islands for the keratin K3 and by Western blotting for keratin K3. EGF, alone or in combination with KGF and SC-HGF, significantly stimulated motility of epithelial cells at the periphery of confluent islands of cells and induced an elongated cell morphology. TGF-alpha, HB-EGF and DC-HGF produced motility effects similar to EGF. There was diminished proliferation of the migrating cells in response to EGF, HB-EGF, TGF-alpha or DC-HGF, while non-migrating epithelial cells in the center of confluent islands continued to proliferate in response to the growth factors. EGF, HB-EGF, TGF alpha or DC-HGF inhibited expression of the differentiation-related marker keratin K3 in epithelial cells, both at the edge and at the center of the islands. KGF stimulated proliferation of corneal epithelial cells at low density and in confluent islands of cells. KGF did not affect expression of keratin K3 or migration of epithelial cells. SC-HGF had no effect on corneal epithelial cells. results indicate that the effects of EGF, HB-EGF, TGF-alpha and DC-HGF on corneal epithelial cell proliferation, motility and differentiation vary from those of KGF and SC-HGF, EGF, HB-EGF, TGF-alpha and DC-HGF induced changes in epithelial cell morphology and motility in cells plated at low cell density or in cells located at the edge of a confluent island. Thus, these effects appear to be dependent on the extent of cell-cell contact. The inhibitory effect of EGF, HB-EGF, TGF-alpha or DC-HGF on corneal epithelial cell differentiation, however, is independent of cell density. In contrast, KGF stimulates proliferation of human corneal epithelial cells regardless of the cell density, does not significantly affect motility, and has no effect on differentiation in serum-free defined medium in vitro.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)665-678
Number of pages14
JournalExperimental Eye Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1994


  • Cell differentiation
  • Cell motility
  • Cell proliferation
  • Cornea
  • Corneal epithelial cells
  • Epidermal growth factor
  • Hepatocyte growth factor
  • Keratinocyte growth factor
  • Transforming growth factor alpha

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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