We studied re-epithelialization of the ocular surface in 17 human eyes (14 patients) with large corneal and conjunctival abrasions. We focused on the healing of the limbal region. During re-epithelialization, cell movement was found to occur circumferentially along the corneoscleral limbus and centripetally from the corneoscleral limbus. In no patient did the central corneal defect close before the corneoscleral limbus had first re-epithelialized completely. Normal limbal healing was observed to occur by circumferentially migrating tongue-shaped corneal limbal epithelium. These tongue-shaped projections developed from either side of the remaining intact epithelium and advanced along the corneoscleral limbus until they met. A centripetal movement of cells from the corneoscleral limbus then completed the healing process. In three patients, however, the advancing conjunctival epithelium extended across the corneoscleral limbus before the tongue-shaped projections of corneal limbal epithelium had met. The surface of the cornea covered by conjunctival epithelium was thin and irregular, and later showed peripheral scarring, vascularization, and recurrent erosions.