Purpose: Cultured human corneal endothelial cells (cHCECs) are anticipated to become an alternative to donor corneas for the treatment of corneal endothelial dysfunction. The aim of this study was to establish proper culture protocols to successfully obtain a reproducibly homogeneous subpopulation (SP) with matured cHCEC functions and devoid of cell-state transition suitable for cell-injection therapy.
Methods: The presence of SPs in cHCECs was investigated in terms of surface cluster-of-differentiation (CD) marker expression level by flow cytometry, as combined analysis of CD markers can definitively specify the SP (effector cells) conceivably the most suitable for cell therapy among diverse SPs. The culture conditions were evaluated by flow cytometry in terms of the proportion (E-ratio) of effector cells designated by CD markers.
Results: Flow cytometry analysis identifying CD44-CD166+CD133-CD105-CD24-CD26- effector cells proved convenient and reliable for standardizing the culture procedures. To ascertain the reproducible production of cHCECs with E-ratios of more than 90% and with no karyotype abnormality, the preferred donor age was younger than 29 years. The continuous presence of Rho-associated protein kinase (ROCK)-inhibitor Y-27632 greatly increased the E-ratios, whereas the presence of transforming growth factor-beta/Smad-inhibitor SB431542 greatly reduced the number of recovered cHCECs. The seeding cell density during culture passages proved vital for maintaining a high E-ratio for extended passages. The continuous presence of ROCK-inhibitor Y-27632 throughout the cultures greatly improved the E-ratio.
Conclusions: Our findings elucidated the culture conditions needed to obtain reproducible cHCECs with high E-ratios, thus ensuring homogeneous cHCECs with matured functions for the treatment of corneal endothelial dysfunction.