PURPOSE: This study aims to clarify the existence of and to map the localization of different proposed stem cell niches in the corneal limbal region. MATERIALS AND METHODS: One human eye was cut into 2200 consecutive sections. Every other section was stained with haematoxylin and eosin, digitized at low and high magnification, aligned, 3D reconstructed and visualized using interactive 3D visualization software. The visualization software has interactive tools that make free rotations in all directions possible and makes it possible to create virtual sections independent of the original cutting plan. In all, one low-magnification and 24 high-magnification interactive 3D models were created. Immunohistochemistry against stem cell markers p63 and ΔNp63α was performed as a supplement to the 3D models. RESULTS: Using the interactive 3D models, we identified three types of stem cell niches in the limbal region: limbal epithelial crypts (LECs), limbal crypts (LCs) and focal stromal projections (FSPs). In all, eight LECs, 25 LCs and 105 FSPs were identified in the limbal region. The LECs, LCs and FSPs were predominantly located in the superior limbal region with seven LECs, 19 LCs and 93 FSPs in the superior limbal region and one LEC, six LCs and 12 FSPs in the inferior limbal region. Only few LECs, LCs and FSPs were localized nasally and temporally. CONCLUSION: Interactive 3D models are a powerful tool that may help to shed more light on the existence and spatial localization of the different stem cell niches (LECs, LCs and FSPs) in the corneal limbal region.
Acta Ophthamologica (online), 2013, Vol 91, Issue 5, p. 457-62