Rabbit conjunctival and corneal epithelial cells belong to two separate lineages

Zhi Gang Wei, Tung Tien Sun, Robert M. Lavker*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


Purpose. This study investigated rabbit conjunctival and corneal epithelial cells to determine if they belong to two separate lineages. Methods. Rabbit corneal, limbal, and conjunctival epithelial cells were isolated and grown in Dulbecco's minimum essential media and 20% fetal bovine serum in the presence of mitomycin-treated 3T3 feeder cells. After reaching 80% confluence, 3T3 feeder cells and any contaminating fibroblasts were removed, and epithelial cells were resuspended in fresh Dulbecco's minimum essential media. Aliquots containing 5 x 106 cells were placed subcutaneously into the flanks of athymic mice, which subsequently formed small nodules. At 2, 4, 6, 8, 14, 21, and 28 days, athymic mice were killed and the nodules (epithelial cyst) were excised for light and transmission electron microscopic examination and histochemical and cell kinetic analyses. Results. Within 2 days after injection of single-cell suspensions, cells aggregated to form cysts lined with a stratified squamous epithelium, the structure of which resembled the original in vivo donor sites by 8 days. Limbal- and corneal-derived cysts were comprised only of glycogen-rich stratified epithelial cells. In contrast, only cysts arising from cultured conjunctival cells contained periodic acid-Schiff-positive cells with a goblet cell structure interspersed among stratified epithelial cells. Furthermore, cystic epithelium of conjunctival origin did not accumulate glycogen. Conclusions. To determine whether distinct phenotypes are caused by intrinsic divergence or by environmental modulation, the behavior of cells can be monitored in an identical in vivo growth environment. The athymic mouse provides such a permissive growth environment for cultured corneal, limbal, and conjunctival epithelial cells. All these cells reproduced their in vivo phenotype when placed in the athymic mouse. Thus, these findings provide the strongest evidence to date that the corneal-limbal lineage is distinct from the conjunctival lineage. These data also support the idea that the progenitor of goblet cells does not reside in the corneal-limbal epithelial compartment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)523-533
Number of pages11
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 1996


  • cell lineages
  • conjunctival goblet cells
  • epithelial differentiation
  • epithelial stem cells
  • transdifferentiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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