Discrete limbal epithelial stem cell populations mediate corneal homeostasis and wound healing

Cell Stem Cell. 2021 Jul 1;28(7):1248-1261.e8. doi: 10.1016/j.stem.2021.04.003. Epub 2021 May 12.


The accessibility and transparency of the cornea permit robust stem cell labeling and in vivo cell fate mapping. Limbal epithelial stem cells (LSCs) that renew the cornea are traditionally viewed as rare, slow-cycling cells that follow deterministic rules dictating their self-renewal or differentiation. Here, we combined single-cell RNA sequencing and advanced quantitative lineage tracing for in-depth analysis of the murine limbal epithelium. These analysis revealed the co-existence of two LSC populations localized in separate and well-defined sub-compartments, termed the "outer" and "inner" limbus. The primitive population of quiescent outer LSCs participates in wound healing and boundary formation, and these cells are regulated by T cells, which serve as a niche. In contrast, the inner peri-corneal limbus hosts active LSCs that maintain corneal epithelial homeostasis. Quantitative analyses suggest that LSC populations are abundant, following stochastic rules and neutral drift dynamics. Together these results demonstrate that discrete LSC populations mediate corneal homeostasis and regeneration.

Keywords: cornea; immune cells; limbal stem cells; limbus; lineage tracing; mathematical modeling; niche; single cell RNA sequencing; stem cell dynamics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cornea
  • Homeostasis
  • Limbus Corneae*
  • Mice
  • Stem Cells*
  • Wound Healing