Identification of neural crest-derived stem cell-like cells from the corneal limbus of juvenile mice

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The neural crest is a transient embryonic tissue alongside the lateral margins of the neural folds. It contains cells involved in the development of anterior eye segments such as the cornea. Previous studies have revealed the presence of neural crest-derived stem cells in the cornea of the adult murine eye. However, less is known about cell populations of the developing eye. In this study, we have identified neural crest-derived murine corneal cells (MCCs) with stem cell-like properties derived from the corneal limbus of mice between postnatal days 1 and 8. RT-PCR analysis and immunofluorescence staining demonstrate that MCCs express a unique profile of markers including typical neural crest-originated stem cell transcripts like Sca1. MCCs show a limited self-renewing capacity but possess multipotency under in vitro conditions after differentiation into cells with features resembling adipocytes, osteoblasts and neuronal cells. Interestingly, MCCs could not be isolated from corneas of adult animals. We conclude that MCCs are stem cell-like cells of an early postnatal period of murine eye growth, probably involved in the early development of the postnatal cornea.

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