Corneal Epithelial Stem Cells Repopulate the Donor Area within 1 Year from Limbus Removal for Limbal Autograft

Ophthalmology. 2016 Dec;123(12):2481-2488. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2016.08.018. Epub 2016 Sep 21.


Purpose: To determine whether limbal epithelial stem cells (LESCs) repopulate the site harvested for limbal autograft transplantation (LAT), the expression of LESCs markers was evaluated in bioptic specimens obtained from the donor area 12 months or more after surgery.

Design: Interventional case series.

Participants: Patients who underwent LAT for unilateral acquired limbal stem cell deficiency after chemical burn.

Methods: Corneal limbal explants were obtained from 2 sites, the harvested area and the untouched control area, in the donor eyes of 6 patients who previously underwent LAT for unilateral acquired limbal stem cell deficiency after chemical burn. Limbal epithelial stem cells were isolated, and cellular, immunohistochemistry, and histologic parameters were assessed to compare differences between LESCs isolated from harvested or control sites.

Main outcome measures: Presence of LESCs 1 year or more after LAT.

Results: Specific markers (p63, Ki67, K12), percentage of LESCs, cell doubling, and number of passages in culture did not differ significantly between harvested and control sites. However, the distinctive structure of the palisades of Vogt was found only in 2 of 6 harvested sites.

Conclusions: Limbal epithelial stem cells repopulate the donor site as early as 1 year after limbus removal for LAT. Autologous transplantation of conjunctiva and limbus are safe procedures and can be performed in cases that cannot be treated by simple grafting of LESCs cultured ex vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Burns, Chemical / surgery
  • Corneal Diseases / surgery
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / transplantation
  • Epithelium, Corneal / cytology*
  • Epithelium, Corneal / metabolism
  • Epithelium, Corneal / transplantation
  • Eye Burns / chemically induced
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Ki-67 Antigen / metabolism
  • Limbus Corneae / cytology*
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Re-Epithelialization / physiology*
  • Stem Cell Transplantation*
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Time Factors
  • Transplant Donor Site / physiology*
  • Transplantation, Autologous


  • Biomarkers
  • CKAP4 protein, human
  • Ki-67 Antigen
  • Membrane Proteins
  • SECTM1 protein, human