Chronic inflammation led to skin forming in the eyes of subject mice, a team of European researchers reported in a Nature Cell Biology article on Monday.

It’s a cellular transformation known as metaplasia —which in itself is hardly unknown, as the National Cancer Institute defines it as “A change of cells to a form that does not normally occur in the tissue in which it is found.”

The Nature Cell Biology article states that the aforementioned ocular skin growth was due to an introduction of “a combination of mouse genetics, pharmacological approaches and in vitro assays” to trial mice in order to “demonstrate that chronic inflammation elicits aberrant mechanotransduction in the regenerating corneal epithelium.”

Corneal stem cells—like other cells—have the ability to sense the qualities of adjacent tissues, and then adapt to match. The inflammation induced in this experiment eventually caused such tissue rigidity in the eyes of the subjects that when corneal stem cells underwent mechanotransduction—the process by which a cell senses stimuli and responds biochemically—the reaction was the ophthalmic growing of skin, rather than cornea.

The end result for the mice undergoing this trial was blindness, as reported by the website of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne university in Switzerland.

Chronic inflammation can trigger the immune system for extended periods of time—which can link it with disorders like abnormal wound healing and cancer, where cellular growth is atypical. The EPFL inflammation experiment gave its team a look at such deviant development. “Our study demonstrates an important mechanism by which chronic inflammation induces abnormal stem cell behavior,” says EPFL Professor Freddy Radtke in his school’s web article, “This is relevant to a variety of diseases associated with chronic inflammation…and could yield new therapeutic targets.”

Photos via Mike Poresky | Flickr Creative Commons