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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 1990 Sep;31(9):1903-13.

Conjunctival transdifferentiation is due to the incomplete removal of limbal basal epithelium.

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Department of Ophthalmology, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, University of Miami, Florida 33101.


Previous studies have shown that using n-heptanol to create a total corneal epithelial defect beyond the limbus results in two different healing patterns with an unpredictable incidence. Between 14-68% of these wounded rabbit corneas (n = 287, combining various reports) showed extensive vascularization and conjunctivalization, whereas the remaining were not vascularized and had conjunctival transdifferentiation with a cornea-like epithelium. To investigate the role of the limbal epithelium in these two healing patterns, the authors treated rabbit eyes for various durations with n-heptanol and additional scraping. Histology showed that treatment for up to 120 seconds removed both the corneal and conjunctival epithelia but left the limbal basal cells intact. To prove viability, they cultured the treated limbal explants on collagen gel. After 14 days of culture, increased stratification of the limbal epithelium and an epithelial outgrowth onto the corneal stroma was observed. The latter was proven to be of corneal origin (positive to AE-5 but negative to AM-3 monoclonal antibody staining). The authors then surgically removed the entire limbal zone including 2 mm of peripheral cornea and 3 mm of adjacent conjunctiva in addition to n-heptanol debridement of the entire corneal epithelium in 54 rabbit eyes and observed a high incidence (96%) of corneal vascularization and conjunctivalization of the resultant epithelial phenotype (positive to AM-3, but negative to AE-5 monoclonal antibody staining). These results support the hypothesis that corneal epithelial stem cells are located in the limbus and indicate that an incomplete removal of the basal limbal epithelium by n-heptanol leads to unvascularized corneas with conjunctival transdifferentiation. Conversely, complete removal of such cells results in corneal vascularization and conjunctivalization.

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