PURPOSE. Toll-like receptor 3 (TLR3), as a damage-associated molecular pattern sensor, can detect self-RNA released from necrotic cells induced by ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation exposure. Pterygium formation is believed to be a tumorigenesis-like process induced by UVB exposure. In this study, we aimed to investigate the expression pattern of TLR3 in pterygium specimens and cultured pterygial epithelial cells (PECs). METHODS. Human pterygium and ipsilateral pterygium-free conjunctiva from the same patients were used in this study. The expression of TLR3 and nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB) was investigated in these specimens. PECs were exposed to UVB radiation to determine the effect of UVB on the expression of TLR3 and the activation of NF-κB. RESULTS. The immunofluorescence study showed stronger TLR3 expression in superficial epithelial cells in the pterygial epithelium in comparison with the normal conjunctival epithelium. The expression of TLR3 decreased in intensity from the superficial epithelium toward the basal cell layer, implying a correlation between UVB exposure and TLR3 expression. Differential TLR3 expression patterns in pterygial and conjunctival tissues were also found in quantitative PCR analyses. PECs after UVB irradiation had higher protein levels of TLR3 and phospho-NF-κB than those of the PECs without irradiation. Immunofluorescence studies showed that UVB irradiation induced the nuclear translocation of NF-κB in the PECs. In PECs with the targeted TLR3 gene silencing, the expression of phospho-NF-κB was not induced by UVB irradiation. CONCLUSIONS. Our results indicate that UVB exposure, TLR3 expression, and NF-κB activation may be a critical sequence that leads to the formation of pterygium.
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