Mechanical properties of the cornea can be affected by diseases such as keratoconus. In keratoconus, a decrease in both thickness and rigidity of the cornea is observed. It is currently not clear whether and how changes in mechanical properties of the cornea are associated with corneal epithelial cell behavior.
In the present study, polyacrylamide (PAA) gels with different elastic moduli have been prepared and human corneal epithelial cells (HCECs) have been cultured on them. To investigate the effect that changes in elastic modulus may have on adhesion and migration of corneal epithelial cells, actin filament organization and expression of adhesion molecules were characterized. It was found that HCECs actin filament organization improves with increasing substrate stiffness and integrin α3 expression significantly increases on more compliant substrates.