The cornea can be damaged by a variety of clinical disorders or chemical, mechanical, and thermal injuries. The objectives of this study were to induce bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (BMSCs) to corneal lineage, to form a tissue engineered corneal substitute (TEC) using BMSCs, and to treat corneal surface defects in a limbal stem cell deficiency model. BMSCs were induced to corneal lineage using limbal medium for 10 days. Induced BMSCs demonstrated upregulation of corneal stem cell markers; β1-integrin, C/EBPδ, ABCG2, and p63, increased protein expression of CK3 and p63 significantly compared with the uninduced ones. For TEC formation, passage 1 BMSCs were trypsinized and seeded on amniotic membrane in a transwell co-culture system and were grown in limbal medium. Limbal stem cell deficiency models were induced by alkaline injury, and the TEC was implanted for 8 weeks. Serial slit lamp evaluation revealed remarkable improvement in corneal regeneration in terms of corneal clarity and reduced vascularization. Histologic and optical coherence tomography analyses demonstrated comparable corneal thickness and achieved stratified epithelium with a compact stromal layer resembling that of normal cornea. CK3 and p63 were expressed in the newly regenerated cornea. In conclusion, BMSCs can be induced into corneal epithelial lineage, and these cells are viable for the formation of TEC, to be used for the reconstruction of the corneal surface in the limbal stem cell deficient model.
* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.