Location and Clonal Analysis of Stem Cells and Their Differentiated Progeny in the Human Ocular Surface
PURPOSE To determine the cell kinetic properties of epithelial cells from various zones of the conjunctiva. METHODS The morphology and cell kinetics of bulbar, fornical, and palpebral conjunctival epithelium were studied in neonatal and adult SENCAR mice. To examine the proliferative rate of the conjunctival epithelium, a single administration of tritiated thymidine (3H-TdR) was used to detect cells in "S" phase. Proliferative rates were also assessed by determining mitotic activity after an intraperitoneal injection of colchicine to arrest cells in mitosis. To detect slow-cycling cells, mice received 3H-TdR continuously for 1 week. After a 4-week chase, animals were sacrificed and eyes were surgically removed. All tissues were immediately fixed in formalin and processed for histology and autoradiography. RESULTS Slow-cycling cells, detected as label-retaining cells (LRCs), were identified in bulbar, fornical, and palpebral epithelia, as well as in limbal epithelium. The greatest number of LRCs was found in fornical epithelium. In addition, we found a number of label-retaining goblet cells. This cell population was shown to incorporate 3H-TdR after a single pulse administration, and mitotic figures were seen in goblet cells after colchicine treatment, indicating that conjunctival goblet cells have proliferative capabilities. CONCLUSIONS These findings are consistent with earlier in vitro data that the fornical epithelium may be a zone enriched in conjunctival epithelial stem cells. This has important implications in conjunctival epithelial development and is relevant in wound repair. Furthermore, the concept that goblet cells are slow-cycling cells with proliferative capabilities provides new insights into the area of conjunctival homeostasis.