Concise review: identifying limbal stem cells: classical concepts and new challenges.
ABSTRACT: The presence of a clear cornea is required for vision, and corneal epithelial cells play a key role. There is a long held view, supported by decades of study, that corneal epithelial stem cells reside at the limbus to regulate homeostatic cell turnover and wound healing. However, the identification of specific markers that allow the isolation and characterization of limbal stem cells remains elusive. Here, we review the classical concepts of limbal stem cell identity and highlight the current state of the field.
Project description:Identification of stem cells from a corneal epithelial cell population by specific molecular markers has been investigated previously. Expressions of P63, ABCG2 and K14/K5 have all been linked to mammalian corneal epithelial stem cells. Here we report on the limitations of K14/K5 as a limbal stem cell marker.K14/K5 expression was measured by immunohistochemistry, Western blotting and Real time PCR and compared between bovine epithelial cells in the limbus and central cornea. A functional study was also included to investigate changes in K5/14 expression within cultured limbal epithelial cells undergoing forced differentiation. K14 expression (or its partner K5) was detected in quiescent epithelial cells from both the limbal area and central cornea. K14 was localized predominantly to basal epithelial cells in the limbus and suprabasal epithelial cells in the central cornea. Western blotting revealed K14 expression in both limbus and central cornea (higher levels in the limbus). Similarly, quantitative real time PCR found K5, partner to K14, to be expressed in both the central cornea and limbus. Following forced differentiation in culture the limbal epithelial cells revealed an increase in K5/14 gene/protein expression levels in concert with a predictable rise in a known differentiation marker.K14 and its partner K5 are limited not only to the limbus but also to the central bovine cornea epithelial cells suggesting K14/K5 is not limbal specific in situ. Furthermore K14/K5 expression levels were not lowered (in fact they increased) within a limbal epithelial cell culture undergoing forced differentiation suggesting K14/K5 is an unreliable maker for undifferentiated cells ex vivo.
Project description:The corneal surface is an essential organ necessary for vision, and its clarity must be maintained. The corneal epithelium is renewed by limbal stem cells, located in the limbus and in palisades of Vogt. Palisades of Vogt maintain the clearness of the corneal epithelium by blocking the growth of conjunctival epithelium and the invasion of blood vessels over the cornea. The limbal region can be damaged by chemical burns, physical damage (e.g., by contact lenses), congenital disease, chronic inflammation, or limbal surgeries. The degree of limbus damage is associated with the degree of limbal stem cells deficiency (partial or total). For a long time, the only treatment to restore vision was grafting part of the healthy cornea from the other eye of the patient or by transplanting a cornea from cadavers. The regenerative medicine and stem cell therapies have been applied to restore normal vision using different methodologies. The source of stem cells varies from embryonic stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells, to induced pluripotent stem cells. This review focuses on the use of oral mucosa epithelial stem cells and their use in engineering cell sheets to treat limbal stem cell deficient patients.
Project description:To investigate changes in limbal basal epithelial cell density in eyes with limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD) using in vivo confocal laser scanning microscopy.Retrospective observational comparative study.A total of 43 eyes of 30 patients diagnosed with LSCD were included in the study. Ten eyes from normal subjects were included as control. Confocal imaging of the central cornea, and the superior, nasal, inferior and temporal limbus were collected using the Heidelberg Retina Tomograph III Rostock Corneal Module. Basal cell density in all locations was measured by 2 independent observers.The mean basal cell density of the normal group was 9264 ± 598 cells/mm(2) in the cornea and 7120 ± 362 cells/mm(2) in the limbus. In the LSCD group, the mean basal cell density in the cornea decreased 31.0% (6389 ± 1820 cells/mm(2), P < .001) and in the limbus decreased 23.6% (5440 ± 1123 cells/mm(2), P < .001) compared to that in the control. There was a trend of basal cell density decline in more advanced stages of LSCD. The basal cell density declined in the unaffected regions at a similar degree as that in the affected region in sectoral LSCD (P > .05). The basal cell diameter increased by 24.6% in the cornea (14.7 ?m) and by 15.7% in the limbus (15.5 ?m) compared to the control.Basal cell density in both central cornea and limbus decreases in LSCD. Limbal stem cells (LSCs) are affected globally and basal cell density could be used as a parameter to measure LSC function at the early stages of the disease process.
Project description:Damage to limbal stem cells as a result of injury or disease can lead to limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD). This disease is characterized by decreased vision that is often painful and may progress to blindness. Clinical features include inflammation, neovascularization, and persistent cornea epithelial defects. Successful strategies for treatment involve transplantation of grafts harvested from the limbus of the alternate healthy eye, called conjunctival-limbal autograft (CLAU) and transplantation of limbal cell sheets cultured from limbal biopsies, termed cultured limbal epithelial transplantation (CLET). In 2012, Sangwan and colleagues presented simple limbal epithelial transplantation (SLET), a novel transplantation technique that combines the benefits of CLAU and CLET and avoids the challenges associated with both. In SLET a small biopsy from the limbus of the healthy eye is divided and distributed over human amniotic membrane, which is placed on the affected cornea. Outgrowth occurs from each small explant and a complete corneal epithelium is typically formed within 2?weeks. Advantages of SLET include reduced risk of iatrogenic LSCD occurring in the healthy cornea at harvest; direct transfer circumventing the need for cell culture; and the opportunity to perform biopsy harvest and transplantation in one operation. Success so far using SLET is comparable with CLAU and CLET. Of note, 336 of 404 (83%) operations using SLET resulted in restoration of the corneal epithelium, whereas visual acuity improved in 258 of the 373 (69%) reported cases. This review summarizes the results of 31 studies published on SLET since 2012. Progress, advantages, challenges, and suggestions for future studies are presented.
Project description:This study evaluated proposed molecular markers related to stem cell (SC) properties with the intention of characterizing a putative SC phenotype in human limbal epithelia. Human corneal and limbal tissues were cut in the vertical and horizontal meridians for histology, transmission electron microscopy (TEM), and immunostaining. Semiquantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and in situ hybridization were used to evaluate gene expression. TEM showed that the limbal basal cells were small primitive cells. Immunostaining disclosed that p63, ABCG2 and integrin alpha9 were primarily expressed by the basal epithelial cells of limbus. Antibodies against integrin beta1, epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), K19, enolase-alpha, and CD71 stained the basal cells of the limbus more brightly than the suprabasal epithelia. Integrin alpha6, nestin, E-cadherin and connexin 43 did not stain the limbal basal cells, but the suprabasal epithelia of the cornea and limbus showed strong immunoreactivity. K3 and involucrin stained only corneal and limbal superficial cells. RT-PCR showed higher levels of p63, ABCG2 and integrin alpha9 mRNA, but lower levels of K3, K12 and connexin 43 expressed in the limbal epithelia than the corneal epithelia. In situ hybridization showed that p63 transcripts were located in basal layer of the limbal epithelium. This work suggests that the basal epithelial cells of the limbus are p63, ABCG2 and integrin alpha9 positive, and nestin, E-cadherin, connexin 43, involucrin, K3, and K12 negative, with relatively higher expression of integrin beta1, EGFR, K19, and enolase-alpha. This putative SC phenotype may facilitate the identification and isolation of limbal epithelial SCs.
Project description:We studied the reproducibility and stability of limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD) in mice following controlled injuries to the corneal and limbal epithelia. In one method, corneal and limbal epithelia were entirely removed with a 0.5 mm metal burr. In the other, limbus to limbus epithelial removal with the burr was followed by thermal injury to the limbus. These two methods were compared with a previously published one. Unwounded corneas were used as control. The corneas were examined monthly for three months by slit lamp with fluorescein staining. Immunofluorescence staining for cytokeratin 12 and 8 on corneal wholemount and cross sections were performed to determine the phenotype of the epithelium. Mechanical shaving of the epithelium, with or without thermal injury, resulted in a reproducible state of LSCD marked by superficial neovascularization, reduce of keratin 12 expression and presence of goblet cells on the cornea. The phenotype was stable in 100% of the eyes up to at least three months. Thermal injury produced a more severe phenotype with more significant stromal opacification. These corneal injury models may be useful for studying the mechanisms leading to limbal stem cell deficiency.
Project description:Corneal epithelial stem cells reside in the limbus that is the transitional zone between the cornea and conjunctiva, and are essential to maintain the homeostasis of corneal epithelium. However, their characterization is poorly understood. Therefore, we constructed gene expression profiles of limbal epithelial SP and non-SP cell using RNA-sequencing. As a result, limbal epithelial SP cells have immature cell phenotypes with endothelial/mesenchymal cell markers, while limbal epithelial non-SP cells have epithelial progenitor cell markers. Overall design: Examination of rabbit limbal epithelial SP and non-SP cells
Project description:Corneal epithelial stem cells are located in the basal layer of the limbus between the cornea and the conjunctiva. Regulation of these limbal epithelial progenitor cells by the stromal niche dictates corneal surface health. To further characterize this process, limbal explants were cultured at the air-fluid interface, termed air-lifting, to stimulate the niche. As compared to submerged cultures, air-lifting significantly promoted epithelial stratification, migration, proliferation, and intrastromal invasion by limbal epithelial cells. Epithelial intrastromal invasion was noted when the limbal, but not corneal, epithelium was recombined with the limbal stroma containing live, but not dead, cells. Invading limbal basal cells displayed up-regulated nuclear expression of p63 and Ki67, down-regulated E-cadherin and cornea-specific keratin 3, and switched expression of beta-catenin from intercellular junctions to the nucleus and cytoplasm, indicating the activation of the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway. Invaded cells isolated by collagenase from the stroma of air-lifted, but not submerged, explants showed vivid clonal growth on 3T3 fibroblast feeder layers and complete epithelial-mesenchymal transition by expressing nuclear p63 and cytoplasmic S100A4. These findings collectively suggest that epithelial-mesenchymal transition via the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway influences the fate of limbal epithelial cells, likely to be progenitor cells, between regeneration and fibrosis when the stromal niche is activated.
Project description:On ocular surface, corneal epithelial stem cells (SC) reside in limbus between cornea and conjunctiva. Pax6, an evolutionally conserved transcription factor essential for eye development, is expressed in post-natal corneal and limbal epithelia progenitors (LEPC) but not in underlying stroma. Because Pax6 is transiently expressed in developing corneal stroma and a subset of limbal and corneal stromal progenitors, we examined the role of Pax6 in limbal niche cells (LNC) in maintaining the phenotype of neural crest (NC) progenitors to support LEPC. Our results showed that nuclear Pax6 staining was found in freshly isolated LNC but not corneal stromal cells. Serial passaged LNC resulted in gradual loss of nuclear Pax6 (46?kDa) staining and neural crest progenitor status defined by the expression of embryonic SCs and NC markers, neurosphere formation, and differentiation into neurons, oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. Gain of function of 46?kDa Pax6 in late-passaged LNC resulted in nuclear Pax6 staining and promotion of the aforementioned NC progenitor status. In an in vitro reunion assay, early passaged LNC and late passaged LNC with overexpression of Pax6 inhibited the expression of corneal epithelial differentiation marker and promoted holoclone by LEPC. Therefore, expression of nuclear 46?kDa Pax6 in LNC plays an important developmental role in maintaining NC progenitor status to support self-renewal of corneal epithelial SCs in the limbal niche.
Project description:Corneal epithelial stem cells are located in the limbus, the junction between the cornea and the conjunctiva. A limbal epithelium model in vitro would be useful for the study of epithelial stem cells, as well as improving the quality of cultivated epithelial sheets for the treatment of limbal stem cell deficiency. In this study, we succeeded in constructing a limbal epithelium-like structure that could be maintained for at least 5 months in vitro. We modified conventional medium by replacing epidermal growth factor with keratinocyte growth factor (KGF) and adding Y-27632, a rho kinase inhibitor. Using this medium, epithelial cells freshly isolated from human limbus were cocultured with human mesenchymal stem cell-derived feeder cells. Cells formed a stratified layer without air exposure, and both basal and suprabasal layers maintained their unique morphologies for up to 5 months. Basal layers expressed the progenitor marker p63 uniformly and K15 heterogeneously. Expressions of PAX6, K3, and K12 indicated that cell sheets underwent normal differentiation in the corneal epithelium lineage. Although medium was changed daily after day 7, cell debris was observed every day, suggesting that cell sheets underwent turnover. Furthermore, secondary colonies were observed from cells dissociated from 1-month and 3-month cultured sheets. In conclusion, human limbal epithelial cell sheet cultures with KGF and Y-27632 maintained stratification, high expression of both stem/progenitor markers and differentiation markers, and colony-forming cells long-term. This protocol may be useful as an in vitro limbal epithelial model for basic studies.