Approximately 50% of donor corneas are unsuitable for keratoplasty due to an unacceptably low endothelial cell count. One way of overcoming this problem and minimizing wastage of donor corneas may be to transplant cultured human corneal endothelial cells onto these. In this study, we examined the morphological characteristics and functional attributes of endothelial layers formed after the transplantation of immortalized cells in vitro. Cultured human corneal endothelial cells, immortalized by transfection with a plasmid encoding SV40 T-antigen, were seeded onto human corneas denuded of their own endothelium. Seven days after transplantation the newly established monolayers were examined by light, confocal and scanning electron microscopy. Endothelial pump function was gauged by monitoring changes in corneal thickness during perfusion of the endothelial face. The endothelia formed from transplanted immortalized cells had a cobblestone-like appearance, being composed of polygonal units joined by junctional complexes. The stromal hydration state of corneas bearing such endothelial layers could be controlled during perfusion. This was an active process achieved via the Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase-dependent endothelial pump, as demonstrated by inhibiting the enzyme with ouabain. Transplantation of immortalized human corneal endothelial cells onto recipient corneas led to the establishment of new monolayers which had the morphology of the native ones in organ-cultured corneas. This model provides us with a means of studying the formation and function of corneal endothelial layers in vitro.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.