Localization of the low-affinity nerve growth factor receptor p75 in human limbal epithelial cells

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Biological effects of nerve growth factor (NGF) are mediated through receptors known as nerve growth factor receptors (NGFR), which include p75 and TrkA. This study was initiated after identifying NGFR as an up-regulated gene in the limbus by cDNA microarray analysis and we postulate that its expression may be indicative of a stem/progenitor cell phenotype. Immunohistochemistry was performed on normal human adult (n= 5) and foetal (n= 3) corneal tissue using antibodies directed against p75, TrkA, NGF, p63, ABCG2 and CK3/12. Limbal, conjunctival and pterygium tissue was obtained from patients (n= 10) undergoing pterygium resection and used for immunohistochemical assessment. Paraffin-embedded archival human skin specimens (n= 4) were also evaluated. In vitro expression of NGFR was determined in limbal, conjunctival and pterygium-derived epithelial cells. p75 was selectively expressed by basal epithelial cells in pterygia, conjunctiva and limbus, but was absent in the central cornea. These results were confirmed with two additional p75 specific antibodies. In contrast, TrkA was found in full-thickness pterygium, conjunctival, limbal and corneal epithelium in both adult and foetal eyes. p75 expression was identified in a small percentage, while TrkA was found on the entire population of cultured conjunctival, limbal and pterygium-derived epithelial cells. This receptor was also observed in selective regions of the human epidermis and hair follicle bulge. Our results illustrate the selective expression of p75 in basal pterygium, conjunctival and limbal epithelium, while staining was absent in adult and foetal central cornea. p75 may represent an additional ocular surface epithelial stem/progenitor cell signature gene.

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