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Exp Eye Res. 2007 Apr;84(4):626-34. Epub 2007 Jan 23.

Existence of small slow-cycling Langerhans cells in the limbal basal epithelium that express ABCG2.

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Tianjin Medical University, Tianjin Eye Hospital, Tianjin, China.


Despite the obvious importance of limbal stem cells in corneal homeostasis and tumorigenesis, little is known about their specific biological characteristics. The purpose of this study was to characterize limbal slow-cycling cells based on the expression of ABCG2 and major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II and the cell size. Wistar rats were daily injected with 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine (BrdU) at a dose of 5 mg/100 g for 2 weeks. After 4-week BrdU-free period, corneal tissues were excised, and immunofluorescence staining for ABCG2, BrdU, and MHC class II was performed by confocal microscopy. In another series, corneal tissues of normal rat were double immunostained for ABCG2, keratin 14, keratin 3, CD11c, and MHC class II. In addition, limbal, peripheral and central corneal epithelial sheets were isolated by Dispase II digestion and dissociated into single cell by trypsin digestion and cytospin preparations were double immunostained for ABCG2 and MHC class II. The cell size and nucleus-to-cytoplasm (N/C) ratio of limbal ABCG2+ cells were analyzed and compared with those of cells from other zones. BrdU label-retaining cells (LRCs) with expression of ABCG2 were found in the limbal epithelial basal layer, but not in other parts of the cornea. Approximately 20% of these cells were MHC class II positive. All MHC class II+ cells in the corneal epithelium were positive for CD11c, a marker for dendritic cells (DCs). Double labeling with ABCG2 and keratin 14 showed that nearly four-fifth of limbal ABCG2+ cells were positive for keratin 14 but negative for keratin 3, exhibiting an undifferentiated epithelial cell lineage. Cytospin sample analysis revealed the presence of a distinct population of smaller ABCG2+ cells with expression of MHC class II with a larger N/C ratio in the limbal epithelium. A new population of small slow-cycling cells with large N/C ratio has been found to express ABCG2 in the limbal epithelial basal layer. Some of these cells normally express MHC class II antigen. These findings may have important implications for our understanding of the characteristics of limbal slow-cycling cells.

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