Keratoconus is characterized by the thinning of corneal stroma, resulting in reduced vision. The exact etiology of keratoconus (KC) is still unknown. The involvement of oxidative stress (OS) in this disease has been reported. However, the exact mechanism of OS in keratoconus is still unknown. Thus we planned this study to screen mitochondrial complex I genes for sequence changes in keratoconus patients and controls, as mitochondrial complex I is the chief source of reactive oxygen species (ROS) production.
A total of 20 keratoconus cases and 20 healthy controls without any ocular disorder were enrolled in this study. Mitochondrial complex I genes (ND1, 2, 3, 4, 4L, 5, and 6) were amplified in all patients and controls using 12 pairs of primers by PCR. After sequencing, DNA sequences were analyzed against the mitochondrial reference sequence NC_012920. Haplogroup frequency based Principle Component Analysis (PCA) was constructed to determine whether the gene pool of keratoconus patients is closer to major populations in India.
DNA sequencing revealed a total 84 nucleotide variations in patients and 29 in controls. Of 84 nucleotide changes, 18 variations were non-synonymous and two novel frame-shift mutations were detected in cases. Non-synonymous mtDNA sequence variations may account for increased ROS and decreased ATP production. This ultimately leads to OS; which is a known cause for variety of corneal abnormalities. Haplotype analysis showed that most of the patients were clustered under the haplogroups: T, C4a2a, R2’TJ, M21’Q1a, M12’G2a2a, M8’CZ and M7a2a, which are present as negligible frequency in normal Indian population, whereas only few patients were found to be a part of the other haplogroups like U7 (Indo-European), R2 and R31, whose origin is contentious.
Mt complex I sequence variations are the main cause of elevated ROS production which leads oxidative stress. This oxidative stress then starts a cascade of events which ultimately can lead to keratoconus. Prompt antioxidant therapy should be initiated in keratoconus patients to minimize ROS related damage.