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From Cord to Eye: Wharton Jelly-Derived Stem Cells Differentiate Into Corneal Endothelial-Like Cells

: Feiertag, E.; Maassen, J.; Mueller, A.; Harnisch, E.; Skazik-Voogt, C.; Engelmann, K.; Schrage, N.; Gutermuth, A.


Cornea 39 (2020), Nr.7, S.877-885
ISSN: 0277-3740
ISSN: 1536-4798
Fraunhofer IPT ()

PURPOSE: A malfunction of the corneal endothelium leading to corneal opacity is one of the main causes of impaired vision. Currently, keratoplasty is the one and only donor cornea-dependent treatment, and this calls for alternatives because of the worldwide lack of donor corneas. Recently, the topography of Descemet membrane (DM) has been discovered as a feasible stem cell differentiation tool. With this study, we further confirm this mechanotransductive system by using preinduced Wharton jelly-derived mesenchymal stem cells (WJ-EPCs).
METHODS: To measure the mechanotransductive potential of Descemet-like topography (DLT), WJ-EPCs were cultivated on collagen imprints with DLT. Changes in the gene and protein expressions of corneal endothelial cells (CECs), typical markers such as zonula occludens (ZO-1), sodium/potassium (Na/K)-ATPase, paired-like homeodomain 2 (PITX2), and collagen 8 (COL-8) were measured. In addition, CEC functionality has been evaluated by measuring the relative potential differences in a 2-compartment system and by measuring corneal transparency in an ex vivo rabbit cornea model. To confirm the activity of WJ-EPCs, rabbit CECs were restless deleted by collagen digestion of a thin layer of rabbit Descemet membrane.
RESULTS: The proper CEC-typical hexagonal morphology of WJ-EPCs in combination with a significant expression of ZO-1, Na/K-ATPase, PITX2, and COL-8 could be demonstrated. In addition, the WJ-EPCs were able to build up a relative potential difference of 40 mV and to keep corneas clear and transparent.
CONCLUSIONS: These data indicate that a well-characterized, functional CEC monolayer was developed by using a DLT-mediated mechanotransductive differentiation of WJ-EPCs.