Grafted cultures of limbal epithelial cells aid repair of the corneal epithelium, but their phenotype is unclear. In this study, the phenotype of cultures that were similar in age to those used clinically were analysed. Limbal epithelial cells were isolated from donor corneoscleral rims and grown in various media, including those designed for keratinocytes. Successful cultures in each medium developed predominantly small (10 microm) tightly packed cells. Immunocytochemistry and western blotting revealed expression of keratins 3, 14 and 19. Expression of these keratins in situ was confirmed by immunohistochemistry. Basal limbal epithelial cells were positive for keratins 14 and 19, and suprabasal cells were positive for keratin 3. However intense staining for keratin 14 was also observed at the inner cut edge of corneoscleral rims. These findings demonstrate the potential importance of keratins 14 and 19 as markers of epithelial cell differentiation in the human cornea.