The ciliary epithelium plays a central role in ocular homeostasis but cells of the pigmented and non-pigmented layers are difficult to isolate physically and study. Here we used single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) to analyze the transcriptional signatures of cells harvested from the ciliary body and contiguous tissues. Microdissected tissue was dissociated by collagenase digestion and the transcriptomes of individual cells were obtained using a droplet-based scRNA-seq approach. In situ hybridization was used to verify the expression patterns of selected differentially-expressed genes. High quality transcriptomes were obtained from 10,024 cells and unsupervised clustering distinguished 22 cell types. Although efforts were made to specifically isolate the ciliary body, approximately half of the sequenced cells were derived from the adjacent retina. Cluster identities were assigned using expression of canonical markers or cluster-specific genes. The transcriptional signature of cells in the PCE and NPCE were distinct from each other and from cells in contiguous tissues. PCE cell transcriptomes were characterized by genes involved in melanin synthesis and transport proteins such as Slc4a4. Among the most differentially expressed genes in NPCE cells were those encoding members of the Zic family of transcription factors (Zic1, 2, 4), collagen XVIII (Col18a1), and corticotrophin-releasing hormone-binding protein (Crhbp). The ocular melanocyte population was distinguished by expression of the gap junction genes Gjb2 and Gjb6. Two fibroblast signatures were detected in the ciliary body preparation and shown by in situ hybridization to correspond to uveal and scleral populations. This cell atlas for the ciliary body and contiguous layers represents a useful resource that may facilitate studies into the development of the ciliary epithelium, the production of the aqueous and vitreous humors, and the synthesis of the ciliary zonule.
Keywords: Aqueous humor; Cell atlas; Ciliary epithelium; Fibroblast; In situ hybridization; Melanocyte; Mouse; Single-cell RNA-seq; Transcriptomics; Vitreous humor.
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