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Exp Eye Res. 2014 Sep;126:16-26. doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2013.12.018. Epub 2014 Apr 14.

Barrier properties of cultured retinal pigment epithelium.

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Departments of Surgery and of Ophthalmology and Visual Science, Yale University School of Medicine, PO Box 208062, 310 Cedar Street, New Haven, CT 06520-8062, USA. Electronic address:


The principal function of an epithelium is to form a dynamic barrier that regulates movement between body compartments. Each epithelium is specialized with barrier functions that are specific for the tissues it serves. The apical surface commonly faces a lumen, but the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) appears to be unique by a facing solid tissue, the sensory retina. Nonetheless, there exists a thin (subretinal) space that can become fluid filled during pathology. RPE separates the subretinal space from the blood supply of the outer retina, thereby forming the outer blood-retinal barrier. The intricate interaction between the RPE and sensory retina presents challenges for learning how accurately culture models reflect native behavior. The challenge is heightened by findings that detail the variation of RPE barrier proteins both among species and at different stages of the life cycle. Among the striking differences is the expression of claudin family members. Claudins are the tight junction proteins that regulate ion diffusion across the spaces that lie between the cells of a monolayer. Claudin expression by RPE varies with species and life-stage, which implies functional differences among commonly used animal models. Investigators have turned to transcriptomics to supplement functional studies when comparing native and cultured tissue. The most detailed studies of the outer blood-retinal barrier have focused on human RPE with transcriptome and functional studies reported for human fetal, adult, and stem-cell derived RPE.


blood–retinal barrier; cell culture; claudins; epithelia; retina; retinal pigment epithelium; stem cells; tight junctions

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