Gene expression analysis identifies two distinct molecular clusters of idiopatic epiretinal membranes

Daniela Coltrini, Mirella Belleri, Elena Gambicorti, Davide Romano, Francesco Morescalchi, Adwaid Manu Krishna Chandran, Stefano Calza, Francesco Semeraro, Marco Presta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Idiopathic epiretinal membranes (ERMs) are fibrocellular membranes containing extracellular matrix proteins and epiretinal cells of retinal and extraretinal origin. iERMs lead to decreased visual acuity and their pathogenesis has not been completely defined. Aim of this study was to provide a molecular characterization of iERMs by gene expression analysis. To this purpose, 56 iERMs obtained by pars plana vitrectomy were analyzed for the expression levels of genes encoding biomarkers of the cellular and molecular events occurring in iERMs. RT-qPCR analysis showed significant differences in the levels of cell population, extracellular matrix and cytokine/growth factor biomarkers among the iERMs investigated. Hierarchical clustering of RT-qPCR data identified two distinct iERM clusters, Cluster B samples representing transcriptionally “activated” iERMs when compared to transcriptionally “quiescent” Cluster A specimens. Further, Cluster B could be subdivided in two subgroups, Cluster B1 iERMs, characterized by a marked glial cell activation, and Cluster B2 samples characterized by a more pro-fibrotic phenotype. Preoperative decimal best-corrected visual acuity and post-surgery inner segment/outer grading values were higher in Cluster A patients, that showed a prevalence of fovea-attached type iERMs with near-normal inner retina, than in Cluster B patients, that presented more severe clinical and spectral domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) features. In conclusion, this molecular characterization has identified two major clusters of iERM specimens with distinct transcriptional activities that reflect different clinical and SD-OCT features of iERM patients. This retrospective work paves the way to prospective whole-genome transcriptomic studies to allow a molecular classification of iERMs and for the identification of molecular signature(s) of prognostic and therapeutic significance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number165938
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Molecular Basis of Disease
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Epiretinal membrane
  • Eye disease
  • Gene expression
  • Retina

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology


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