Background aims: Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) cultivated from the corneal limbus (L-MSCs) provide a potential source of cells for corneal repair. In the present study, we investigated the immunosuppressive properties of human L-MSCs and putative rabbit L-MSCs to develop an allogeneic therapy and animal model of L-MSC transplantation.
Methods: MSC-like cultures were established from the limbal stroma of human and rabbit (New Zealand white) corneas using either serum-supplemented medium or a commercial serum-free MSC medium (MesenCult-XF Culture Kit; Stem Cell Technologies, Melbourne, Australia). L-MSC phenotype was examined by flow cytometry. The immunosuppressive properties of L-MSC cultures were assessed using mixed leukocyte reactions. L-MSC cultures were also tested for their ability to support colony formation by primary limbal epithelial (LE) cells.
Results: Human L-MSC cultures were typically CD34⁻, CD45⁻ and HLA-DR⁻ and CD73⁺, CD90⁺, CD105⁺ and HLA-ABC⁺. High levels (>80%) of CD146 expression were observed for L-MSC cultures grown in serum-supplemented medium but not cultures grown in MesenCult-XF (approximately 1%). Rabbit L-MSCs were approximately 95% positive for major histocompatibility complex class I and expressed lower levels of major histocompatibility complex class II (approximately 10%), CD45 (approximately 20%), CD105 (approximately 60%) and CD90 (<10%). Human L-MSCs and rabbit L-MSCs suppressed human T-cell proliferation by up to 75%. Conversely, L-MSCs from either species stimulated a 2-fold to 3-fold increase in LE cell colony formation.
Conclusions: L-MSCs display immunosuppressive qualities in addition to their established non-immunogenic profile and stimulate LE cell growth in vitro across species boundaries. These results support the potential use of allogeneic L-MSCs in the treatment of corneal disorders and suggest that the rabbit would provide a useful pre-clinical model.
Keywords: cell therapy; corneal limbus; immunosuppression; mesenchymal stromal cells.
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