Comparative gene expression profiling reveals key pathways and genes different in skin epidermal stem cells and corneal epithelial cells

  • Yanjie Guo
  • Weini Wu
  • Xiya Ma
  • Mingyan Shi
  • Xueyi YangEmail author
Research Article



Corneal epithelial cells (CECs) are required for corneal transparency and visual function, and corneal injuries may cause corneal blindness. Skin epidermal stem cells (SESCs), which share the same origin with CECs and have the potential of multi-directional differentiation are ideal seed cells for tissue engineered corneal construction to treat corneal blindness.


This study aims to investigate critical genes and pathways that may modulate the transdifferentiation from SESCs to CECs.


Isolated SESCs and CECs were used for gene expression analysis by microarray. GO and KEGG pathway of differently expressed genes (DEGs) were enriched using DAVID. The protein–protein interaction (PPI) network were then constructed using Cytoscape and highly interconnected module was subsequently isolated from the network by Molecular Complex Detection. Expression of the hub genes and other selected genes were then verified by qRT-PCR.


We found 112 upregulated and 105 downregulated genes in CECs compared with SESCs. These DEGs were significantly enriched in focal adhesion, PI3K–Akt and TNF signaling pathway. Highly interconnected module of PPI network contains ten genes. Further regulatory network of these genes showed that ESR1 and SLC2A4 were hub genes.


Our study identified gene expression in SESCs and CECs and suggested that several crucial genes and pathways may play critical roles in transdifferentiation from SESCs to CECs. It may help uncover molecular mechanisms and offer a foundation for promoting tissue-engineered cornea into clinical application.


Corneal epithelia cells Skin epidermal stem cells Microarray Transdifferentiation Genes expression profiling 



This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (nos. 31240089 and 31701121) and the Programs for Science and Technology Development of Henan Province (172102310550). We thank LetPub ( for its linguistic assistance during the preparation of this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Yanjie Guo, Weini Wu, Xiya Ma, Mingyan Shi and Xueyi Yang declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This study had been approved by the Animal Care and Welfare Committee of Luoyang Normal University (number 12009158).

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© The Genetics Society of Korea 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yanjie Guo
    • 1
  • Weini Wu
    • 1
  • Xiya Ma
    • 1
  • Mingyan Shi
    • 1
  • Xueyi Yang
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Life Science CollegeLuoyang Normal UniversityLuoyangChina

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