Roles of limbal microvascular net and limbal stroma in regulating maintenance of limbal epithelial stem cells

Cell Tissue Res. 2015 Feb;359(2):547-563. doi: 10.1007/s00441-014-2032-4. Epub 2014 Nov 15.


Knowledge of the microenvironment (niche) of stem cells is helpful for stem-cell-based regenerative medicine. In the eye, limbal epithelial stem cells (corneal epithelial stem cells) provide the self-renewal capacity of the corneal epithelium and are essential for maintaining corneal transparency and vision. Limbal epithelial stem cell deficiency results in significant visual deterioration. Successful treatment of this type of blinding disease requires studies of the limbal epithelial stem cells and their microenvironment. We investigate the function of the limbal microvascular net and the limbal stroma in the maintenace of the limbal epithelial stem cell niche in vivo and examine the regulation of limbal epithelial stem cell survival, proliferation and differentiation in vivo. We assess the temporal and spatial changes in the expression patterns of the following markers during a six-month follow-up of various rabbit limbal autograft transplantation models: vascular endothelial cell marker CD31, corneal epithelium differentiation marker K3, limbal epithelial stem-cell-associated markers P63 and ABCG2 and proliferating cell nuclear marker Ki67. Our results suggest that limbal epithelial stem cells cannot maintain their stemness or proliferation without the support of the limbal microvascular net microenvironment. Thus, both the limbal microvascular net and the limbal stroma play important roles as components of the limbal epithelial stem cell niche maintaining limbal epithelial stem cell survival and proliferation and the avoidance of differentiation. The limbal stroma constitutes the structural basis of the limbal epithelial stem cell niche and the limbal microvascular net is a requirement for this niche. These new insights should aid the eventual construction of tissue-engineered cornea for corneal blind patients in the future.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Autografts
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Corneal Stroma / cytology*
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology*
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Ki-67 Antigen / metabolism
  • Limbus Corneae / blood supply*
  • Limbus Corneae / cytology*
  • Microvessels / metabolism*
  • Models, Animal
  • Rabbits
  • Slit Lamp
  • Staining and Labeling
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Time Factors
  • Transplantation, Autologous


  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters
  • Biomarkers
  • Ki-67 Antigen