PURPOSE. To detect and isolate cells with stem cell (SC) characteristics in the limbus of the mouse.
METHODS. Limbal tissues from BALB/c mice were trypsin-dissociated and separated on the gradient Percoll (Fluka, Buchs, Switzerland). Several fractions were isolated and characterized by real-time PCR for the presence of limbal SC markers and differentiation markers of corneal epithelial cells by flow cytometry for the determination of the side-population (SP) phenotype and growth properties in vitro.
RESULTS. Cells retained in the lightest fraction (40% Percoll) and in the densest fraction (80% Percoll) of the gradient were both enriched for populations with a high expression of the SC markers ABCG2 and Lgr5 and also expressing the SP phenotype. However, the lightest fraction (representing approximately 12% of total limbal cells) contained cells with the strongest spontaneous proliferative capacity and expressed the corneal epithelial differentiation marker K12. In contrast the densest fraction (< 7% of original cells) was K12 negative and contained small nonspontaneously proliferating cells, which instead were positive for p63. Unexpectedly, cells from this fraction had the highest proliferative activity when cultured on a 3T3 feeder cell monolayer.
CONCLUSIONS. These findings demonstrate the presence of two distinct populations of corneal epithelial cells with limbal SC characteristics, based on differential expression of the keratin-specific marker K12 and transcription factor p63, and suggest a difference in developmental stage of the two populations, with the K12(-)p63(+) population being closer to the primitive limbal SC.
- amniotic membrane
- transporter ABCG2