During the development of the anterior segment of the eye, neural crest mesenchyme cells migrate between the lens and the corneal epithelium. These cells contribute to the structures lining the anterior chamber: the corneal endothelium and stroma, iris stroma, and trabecular meshwork. In the present study, removal of the lens or replacement of the lens with a cellulose bead led to the formation a disorganized aggregate of mesenchymal cells beneath the corneal epithelium. No recognizable corneal endothelium, corneal stroma, iris stroma, or anterior chamber was found in these eyes. When the lens was replaced immediately after removal, a disorganized mass of mesenchymal cells again formed beneath the corneal epithelium. However, 2 days after surgery, the corneal endothelium and the anterior chamber formed adjacent to the lens. When the lens was removed and replaced such that only a portion of its anterior epithelial cells faced the cornea, mesenchyme cells adjacent to the lens epithelium differentiated into corneal endothelium. Mesenchyme cells adjacent to lens fibers did not form an endothelial layer. The cell adhesion molecule, N-cadherin, is expressed by corneal endothelial cells. When the lens was removed the mesenchyme cells that accumulated beneath the corneal epithelium did not express N-cadherin. Replacement of the lens immediately after removal led to the formation of an endothelial layer that expressed N-cadherin. Implantation of lens epithelia from older embryos showed that the lens epithelium maintained the ability to support the expression of N-cadherin and the formation of the corneal endothelium until E15. This ability was lost by E18. These studies provide evidence that N-cadherin expression and the formation of the corneal endothelium are regulated by signals from the lens. N-cadherin may be important for the mesenchymal-to-epithelial transformation that accompanies the formation of the corneal endothelium.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.