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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 1991 Nov;32(12):3073-7.

Differentiation in cultured limbal epithelium as defined by keratin expression.

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Department of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pennsylvania 15213.


The authors investigated differentiation of cultured corneal and limbal epithelial cells by immunochemically evaluating the changes in the profiles of keratins recognized by two monoclonal antibodies: AE5, which recognizes K3, and AE1, which recognizes a group of acidic keratins including K16, which is present in the hyperproliferative cells. After 1 and 2 weeks in culture, the human epithelial cells did not react with AE5 but did react strongly with AE1. At 3 weeks, only suprabasal cells exhibited a moderate reactivity with AE5, whereas AE1 binding was seen in all of the cells. After 5 to 6 weeks in culture, all of the cells reacted moderately with AE5 and AE1. Treatment of 2-week-old limbally derived cultures with mitomycin C (mitosis inhibitor) did not inhibit subsequent K3 expression. Thus, K3 expression was associated with maturation or a later stage of differentiation that did not require an additional cell division. Unlike human epithelial cells, rabbit suprabasal epithelial cells expressed K3 (reactivity to AE5) after only ten days in culture. The epithelium derived from central human cornea lost K3 by 1 week in tissue culture but expressed keratin(s) recognized by AE1. Even after 4-6 weeks, cells derived from the central cornea did not become confluent and did not react with AE5. Thus, limbally derived human and rabbit epithelial cells undergo chronological changes in K3 expression similar to that seen in rabbit epithelial cells derived from central cornea. However, cultured human limbal epithelial cells take a significantly longer time to express K3 (a phenotypic characteristic of differentiated corneal epithelium) than do rabbit epithelial cells.

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