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Mol Vis. 2009;15:99-107. Epub 2009 Jan 16.

Differentiation of rabbit bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells into corneal epithelial cells in vivo and ex vivo.

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China Medical University, Department of Ophthalmology, The First Affiliated Hospital, Shenyang, China.



To examine whether bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) could be differentiated into corneal epithelial cells in vivo and ex vivo.


In vivo, BrdU labeled rabbit MSCs (Rb-MSCs) were suspended in the fibrin gels and transplanted onto the surface of the damaged rabbit corneas. Histology and molecular phenotype were studied on postoperative day 28. In vitro, labeled Rb-MSCs were cultured for three days in two different systems: (1) Group A: Rb-MSCs were co-cultured with rabbit limbal stem cells (Rb-LSCs) by the Transwell culture system. A suspension of Rb-LSCs was added to the upper membrane surface, and the inserts were positioned in the culture wells, which were incubated with Rb-MSCs; (2) Group B: Supernatant medium that had first been used to culture Rb-LSCs and then filtered with a 0.45 mum filter was used to culture Rb-MSCs. For both groups, immunofluorescence and flow cytometric analysis were used to examine the expression of cytokeratin 3 (CK3) in differentiated Rb-MSCs.


In vivo, the data showed that following transplantation of Rb-MSCs, the rabbit's damaged corneal surface was successfully reconstructed and that some Rb-MSCs participated in the healing of the injured corneal epithelium and expressed CK3. In vitro, the data showed that Rb-MSCs rapidly differentiated into cells with a morphological and molecular phenotype of corneal epithelial-like cells. For both groups, the differentiated Rb-MSCs were positive for corneal epithelial-specific marker CK3. In Group A, flow cytometry analysis showed that at day one, only 3.46+/-1.9% of cells expressed CK3. This increased to 7.24+/-3.80% at day two and decreased slightly (5.50+/-3.33%) at day three. The proportion of CK3 in Group B was 4.09+/-1.84% at day one, rising to 9.31+/-5.92% after 24 h, but falling (4.37+/-2.61%) at day three. The mean differences are significant between each group and the negative control, but was not significant between Group A and Group B.


MSCs could differentiate into corneal epithelial-like cells in vivo and ex vivo.

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