3 years ago

Poly(ethylene glycol)-modified silk fibroin membrane as a carrier for limbal epithelial stem cell transplantation in a rabbit LSCD model

Haiwei Xu, Lei Yang, Xiaowei Gao, Yuxiao Zeng, Yuli Yang, Yijian Li



Limbal epithelial stem cells (LESCs) play important roles in corneal epithelial homeostasis and regeneration, and damage to the limbus will lead to limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD), with conjunctivalization and even visual impairment. Cultured LESCs have been used for ocular surface reconstruction, and silk fibroin (SF) membranes have shown potential as a substrate for LESC cultivation. Both culture methods and the carriers of LESCs affect outcomes following LESC transplantation.


Rabbit LESCs were cultured from tissue explant, single cell-suspension, and cell cluster culture methods. Ratios of p63α and/or ABCB5-positive LESCs, differentiated corneal epithelial cells (CK12 staining), and corneal tight junction formation (Claudin-1 staining) were examined to choose the most applicable LESC cultures. SF membranes were prepared and modified by 400-Da poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG). The characteristics of stem cells and normal corneal differentiation of LESCs cultured on PEG-modified SF membranes were further examined by immunofluorescence staining and flow cytometric analysis. LESCs cultured on PEG-modified SF membranes (LESC/SF grafts) and PEG-modified SF membranes (SF grafts) were transplanted onto rabbit corneas with total LSCD. New blood vessels, corneal epithelial defects, and cornea clarity were examined after transplantation. Furthermore, corneal epithelial thickness, stromal thickness, and the percentage area of CK12-positive corneal epithelium were quantified 4 months after transplantation.


Tissue explant and single cell-suspension cultures harvested more p63α and/or ABCB5-positive LESCs, generated more CK12-positive corneal epithelial cells, and formed more corneal tight junctions than cell cluster cultures. Prepared PEG-modified SF membranes were transparent, flexible, and sturdy enough for surgical manipulation. LESCs cultured on PEG-modified SF membranes maintained characteristics of stem cells and normal corneal differentiation. LESC/SF grafts inhibited new blood vessels and rescued corneal epithelial defects in the rabbit total LSCD model. In addition, LESC/SF grafts repopulated the limbus and increased corneal epithelial thickness, stromal thickness, and the area percentage of CK12-positive corneal epithelium.


LESCs from tissue explant and single cell-suspension cultures were more applicable corneal epithelial cells for ocular surface reconstruction. LESC/SF grafts repaired corneal epithelial defects and reversed LSCD, and PEG-modified SF membranes were suitable to be a carrier for LESC transplantation.

Publisher URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s13287-017-0707-y

DOI: 10.1186/s13287-017-0707-y

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