• corneal development;
  • cell invasion;
  • collagen type IX;
  • FACIT collagens;
  • collagen crosslinks;
  • MMPs;
  • MMP-2;
  • MT3-MMP;
  • TIMP-2


Avian corneal development requires cellular invasion into the acellular matrix of the primary stroma. Previous results show that this invasion is preceded by the removal of the fibril-associated type IX collagen, which possibly stabilizes matrices through interfibrillar cross-bridges secured by covalent crosslinks. In the present study, we provide evidence for the expression of three matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) in early corneas, two of which act cooperatively to selectively remove type IX collagen in situ. In organ cultures, MMP inhibitors (either TIMP-2 or a synthetic inhibitor) resulted in arrested development, in which collagen IX persisted, and the stroma remained compact and acellular. We also show that blocking covalent crosslinking of collagen allows for cellular invasion to occur, even when the removal of type IX collagen is prevented. Thus, one factor regulating corneal invasion is the physical structure of the matrix, which can be modified by either selective proteolysis or reducing interfibrillar cross-bridges. We also detected another level of regulation of cellular invasion involving inhibition by the underlying lens. This block, which seems to influence invasive behavior independently of matrix modification, is a transient event that is released in ovo just before invasion proceeds. Developmental Dynamics 232:106–118, 2005. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.