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Tarsis F. Gesteira, Mingxia Sun, Yvette M. Coulson-Thomas, Yu Yamaguchi, Lung-Kun Yeh, Vincent Hascall, Vivien J. Coulson-Thomas; Hyaluronan Rich Microenvironment in the Limbal Stem Cell Niche Regulates Limbal Stem Cell Differentiation. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2017;58(11):4407-4421. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/iovs.17-22326.
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Limbal epithelial stem cells (LSCs), located in the basal layer of the corneal epithelium in the corneal limbus, are vital for maintaining the corneal epithelium. LSCs have a high capacity of self-renewal with increased potential for error-free proliferation and poor differentiation. To date, limited research has focused on unveiling the composition of the limbal stem cell niche, and, more important, on the role the specific stem cell niche may have in LSC differentiation and function. Our work investigates the composition of the extracellular matrix in the LSC niche and how it regulates LSC differentiation and function.
Hyaluronan (HA) is naturally synthesized by hyaluronan synthases (HASs), and vertebrates have the following three types: HAS1, HAS2, and HAS3. Wild-type and HAS and TSG-6 knockout mice—HAS1−/−;HAS3−/−, HAS2Δ/ΔCorEpi, TSG-6−/−—were used to determine the importance of the HA niche in LSC differentiation and specification.
Our data demonstrate that the LSC niche is composed of a HA rich extracellular matrix. HAS1−/−;HAS3−/−, HAS2Δ/ΔCorEpi, and TSG-6−/− mice have delayed wound healing and increased inflammation after injury. Interestingly, upon insult the HAS knock-out mice up-regulate HA throughout the cornea through a compensatory mechanism, and in turn this alters LSC and epithelial cell specification.
The LSC niche is composed of a specialized HA matrix that differs from that present in the rest of the corneal epithelium, and the disruption of this specific HA matrix within the LSC niche leads to compromised corneal epithelial regeneration. Finally, our findings suggest that HA has a major role in maintaining the LSC phenotype.
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