Defining compartmentalized stem cell populations with distinct cell division dynamics in the ocular surface epithelium

Development. 2020 Dec 16;147(24):dev197590. doi: 10.1242/dev.197590.


Adult tissues contain label-retaining cells (LRCs), which are relatively slow-cycling and considered to represent a property of tissue stem cells (SCs). In the ocular surface epithelium, LRCs are present in the limbus and conjunctival fornix; however, the character of these LRCs remains unclear, owing to lack of appropriate molecular markers. Using three CreER transgenic mouse lines, we demonstrate that the ocular surface epithelium accommodates spatially distinct populations with different cell division dynamics. In the limbus, long-lived Slc1a3CreER-labeled SCs either migrate centripetally toward the central cornea or slowly expand their clones laterally within the limbal region. In the central cornea, non-LRCs labeled with Dlx1CreER and K14CreER behave as short-lived progenitor cells. The conjunctival epithelium in the bulbar, fornix and palpebral compartment is regenerated by regionally unique SC populations. Severe damage to the cornea leads to the cancellation of SC compartments and conjunctivalization, whereas milder limbal injury induces a rapid increase of laterally expanding clones in the limbus. Taken together, our work defines compartmentalized multiple SC/progenitor populations of the mouse eye in homeostasis and their behavioral changes in response to injury.

Keywords: Conjunctiva; Label-retaining cell; Limbal stem cells; Lineage tracing; Mouse; Ocular surface epithelium; Stem cell compartment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Division / genetics
  • Cell Lineage / genetics
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Conjunctiva / growth & development
  • Cornea / growth & development
  • Epithelium, Corneal / growth & development*
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Transporter 1 / genetics*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics*
  • Homeostasis / genetics
  • Humans
  • Limbus Corneae / growth & development
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*


  • Distal-less homeobox proteins
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Transporter 1
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Slc1a3 protein, mouse
  • Transcription Factors