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Prog Retin Eye Res. 2001 Sep;20(5):639-73.

Characteristics of the human ocular surface epithelium.

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  • 1Department of Ophthalmology, Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, 645 Kajii-cho, Hirokoji Kawaramachi, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto 602-0841, Japan.


An appreciation of the biological characteristics of the human ocular surface epithelium affords us a great insight into the physiology of the human ocular surface in health and disease. Here, we review five important aspects of the human ocular surface epithelium. First, we recognize the discovery of corneal epithelial stem cells, and note how the palisades of Vogt have been suggested as a clinical marker of their presence. Second, we introduce the concept of the gene expression profile of the ocular surface epithelium as arrived at using a new strategy for the systematic analysis of active genes. We also provide a summary of several genes abundantly or uniquely expressed in the human corneal epithelium, namely clusterin, keratin 3, keratin 12, aldehyde dehydrogenase 3 (ALDH3), troponin-I fast-twitch isoform, ssig-h3, cathepsin L2 (cathepsin V), uroplakin Ib, and Ca(2+)-activated chloride channel. Genes related to limbal and conjunctival epithelia are also described. Third, we touch upon the genetic abnormalities thought to be involved with epithelial dysfunction in Meesmann's dystrophy, gelatinous drop-like corneal dystrophy, and the ssig-h3-mutated corneal dystrophies. Fourth, we provide an update regarding the current state of knowledge of the role of cytokines, growth factors and apoptosis in relation to ocular surface homeostasis and tissue reconstruction; the main factors being epidermal growth factor (EGF), keratinocyte growth factor (KGF), hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), transforming growth factor-ss (TGF-ss), and some inflammatory cytokines. Fifth, corneal epithelial barrier function and dysfunction as measured by fluorophotometry is remarked upon, with an explanation of the FL-500 fluorophotometer and its ability to detect corneal epithelial dysfunction at a subclinical level. The research described in this review has undoubtedly generated a complete understanding of corneal epithelial pathophysiology-an understanding that, directly or indirectly, has helped advance the development of new therapeutic modalities for ocular surface reconstruction.

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