Membranes prepared from a protein, fibroin, isolated from domesticated silkworm (Bombyx mori) silk, support the cultivation of human limbal epithelial (HLE) cells and thus display significant potential as biomaterials for ocular surface reconstruction. We presently extend this promising avenue of research by directly comparing the attachment, morphology and phenotype of primary HLE cell cultures grown on fibroin to that observed on donor amniotic membrane (AM), the current clinical standard substrate for HLE transplantation. Fibroin membranes measuring 6.3 ± 0.5 μm (mean ± sd) in thickness and permeable to FITC dextran of a molecular weight up to 70 kDa, were used. Attachment of HLE cells to fibroin was similar to that supported by tissue culture plastic but approximately 6-fold less than that observed on AM. Nevertheless, epithelia constructed from HLE on fibroin maintained evidence of corneal phenotype (K3/K12 expression) and displayed a comparable number and distribution of ΔNp63(+) progenitor cells to that seen in cultures grown on AM. These results support the suitability of membranes constructed from Bombyx mori silk fibroin as substrata for HLE cultivation and encourage progression to studies of efficacy in preclinical models.
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