Amniotic membrane (AM) reconstructed human conjunctival surfaces recover a goblet cell density higher than normal. Cultured rabbit conjunctival epithelial cells (RCE) on AM preferentially exhibit non-goblet epithelial differentiation. It was thus wondered if conjunctival progenitor cells that might have been preserved during ex vivo expansion on AM can still differentiate into conjunctival non-goblet epithelial and goblet cells under the influence of mesenchymal cells. Fourteen day old AM cultures of RCE were subcutaneously implanted in Balb/c athymic mice for 11 days and processed for PAS staining and immunostaining with monoclonal antibodies to conjunctival goblet cell mucin (MUC5AC, AM3), glycocalyx (AMEM2), cornea specific cytokeratins K3 (AE5) and K12 (AK2) and basal cell specific cytokeratin K14. Cell cycle kinetics were measured by BrdU labelling for 1 or 7 days. The 7 day labelled RCE were chased for 14 days in the same primary culture. After subcutaneous implantation, conjunctival non-goblet epithelial cells increased stratification and formed occasional cysts. The resultant epithelial phenotype was conjunctival with many PAS-positive, MUC5AC-positive, and AM3-positive goblet cells, AMEM2-positive suprabasal and superficial cells, and K14-positive basal cells, but was not corneal (negative to AE5 and AK2 staining). Twenty four hr BrdU labelling showed a labelling index of 42.5%. A higher labelling index or 69% was noted after continuous BrdU labelling for 7 days. A large number of label retaining basal cells with a labelling index of 84% were noted following 14 days of chase. Conjunctival epithelial progenitor cells for goblet and non-goblet cell differentiation are preserved by AM in vitro as evidenced by being able to differentiate into goblet cells in a permissive stromal environment, and being slow-cycling, and label retaining. This information is useful for future ex vivo expansion of conjunctival epithelial stem cells for conjunctival surface reconstruction.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd.