Mechanotransductive Differentiation of Hair Follicle Stem Cells Derived from Aged Eyelid Skin into Corneal Endothelial-Like Cells
Corneal endothelial insufficiency is one of the leading causes of blindness. The main contemporary treatment for corneal blindness is endothelial keratoplasty, which, however, is unsatisfactory as a medical therapy due to the lack of donor corneas and graft rejection. Therefore, autologous stem cell-based corneal endothelial tissue substitutes may be a promising alternative to conventional grafts in the future. To address the age of most patients suffering from corneal endothelial deficiencies, we investigated the presence and potential of hair-derived stem cells from older tissue donors. Our studies revealed the presence of pluripotency- and neural crest-associated markers in tissue sections from blepharoplasty patients aged 50 to 80 years. In vitro outgrowths from eyelid hair follicles on collagen-coated tissue culture plates revealed a weak decrease in stem-cell potency. In contrast, cells within the spheres that spontaneously formed from the adherent cell layer retained full stem-cell potency and could be differentiated into cells of the ecto- meso and endodermal lineages. Although these highly potent hair follicle derived stem cells (HFSC) were only very slightly expandable, they were able to recognize the biomimicry of the Descemet's-like topography and differentiate into corneal endothelial-like cells. In conclusion, HFSCs derived from epidermal skin of eyelid biopsies are a promising cell source to provide autologous corneal endothelial replacement for any age group of patients.