New characterization and safety evaluation of human limbal stem cells used in clinical application: fidelity of mitotic process and mitotic spindle morphologies

Stem Cell Res Ther. 2023 Dec 13;14(1):368. doi: 10.1186/s13287-023-03586-z.


Background: Limbal stem cells (LSCs) are crucial for the regeneration of the corneal epithelium in patients with limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD). Thus, LSCs during cultivation in vitro should be in highly homogeneous amounts, while potency and expression of stemness without tumorigenesis would be desirable. Therefore, further characterization and safety evaluation of engineered limbal grafts is required to provide safe and high-quality therapeutic applications.

Methods: After in vitro expansion, LSCs undergo laboratory characterization in a single-cell suspension, cell culture, and in limbal grafts before transplantation. Using a clinically applicable protocol, the data collected on LSCs at passage 1 were summarized, including: identity (cell size, morphology); potency (yield, viability, population doubling time, colony-forming efficiency); expression of putative stem cell markers through flow cytometry, immunofluorescence, and immunohistochemistry. Then, mitotic chromosome stability and normal mitotic outcomes were explored by using live-cell imaging. Finally, impurities, bacterial endotoxins and sterility were determined.

Results: Expression of the stemness marker p63 in single-cell suspension and in cell culture showed high values by different methods. Limbal grafts showed p63-positive cells (78.7 ± 9.4%), Ki67 proliferation (41.7 ± 15.9%), while CK3 was negative. Impurity with 3T3 feeder cells and endotoxins was minimized. We presented mitotic spindles with a length of 11.40 ± 0.54 m and a spindle width of 8.05 ± 0.55 m as new characterization in LSC culture. Additionally, live-cell imaging of LSCs (n = 873) was performed, and only a small fraction < 2.5% of aberrant interphase cells was observed; 2.12 ± 2.10% of mitotic spindles exhibited a multipolar phenotype during metaphase, and 3.84 ± 3.77% of anaphase cells had a DNA signal present within the spindle midzone, indicating a chromosome bridge or lagging chromosome phenotype.

Conclusion: This manuscript provides, for the first time, detailed characterization of the parameters of fidelity of the mitotic process and mitotic spindle morphologies of LSCs used in a direct clinical application. Our data show that p63-positive CK3-negative LSCs grown in vitro for clinical purposes undergo mitotic processes with extremely high fidelity, suggesting high karyotype stability. This finding confirms LSCs as a high-quality and safe therapy for eye regeneration in humans.

Keywords: Advanced therapy medicinal products; Limbal graft; Limbal stem cell; Limbal stem cell deficiency; p63.

MeSH terms

  • Endotoxins / metabolism
  • Epithelium, Corneal*
  • Humans
  • Limbal Stem Cells
  • Limbus Corneae*
  • Spindle Apparatus
  • Stem Cells


  • Endotoxins