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Stem Cell Rev. 2008 Sep;4(3):159-68. doi: 10.1007/s12015-008-9029-x. Epub 2008 Jul 12.

Corneal epithelial stem cells: deficiency and regulation.

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Cells for Sight Transplantation and Research Programme, Ocular Repair and Regeneration Biology Unit, Division of Pathology, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, 11-43 Bath Street, London, EC1V 9EL, UK.


The corneal epithelium is continuously renewed by a population of stem cells that reside in the corneoscleral junction, otherwise known as the limbus. These limbal epithelial stem cells (LESC) are imperative for corneal maintenance with deficiencies leading to in-growth of conjunctival cells, neovascularisation of the corneal stroma and eventual corneal opacity and visual loss. One such disease that has traditionally been thought to be due to LESC deficiency is aniridia, a pan-ocular congenital eye disease due to mutations in the PAX6 gene. Corneal changes or aniridia related keratopathy (ARK) seen in aniridia are typical of LESC deficiency. However, the pathophysiology behind ARK is still ill defined, with current theories suggesting it may be caused by a deficiency in the stem cell niche and adjacent corneal stroma, with altered wound healing responses also playing a role (Ramaesh et al, International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology 37:547-557, 2005) or abnormal epidermal differentiation of LESC (Li et al., The Journal of Pathology 214:9, 2008). PAX6 is considered the master control gene for the eye and is required for normal eye development with expression continuing in the adult cornea, thus inferring a role for corneal repair and regeneration (Sivak et al., Developments in Biologicals 222:41-54, 2000). Studies of models of Pax6 deficiency, such as the small eyed (sey) mouse, should help to reveal the intrinsic and extrinsic mechanisms involved in normal LESC function.

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