A reconstituted telomerase-immortalized human corneal epithelium in vivo: A pilot study

Danielle M Robertson, Jerry P. Kalangara, Rebeccah B. Baucom, Walter M Petroll, Harrison D Cavanagh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Purpose: Telomerase-immortalized human corneal epithelial cells have been reported to stratify and differentiate in vitro similar to native tissue. The purpose of this study was to assess the ability of a telomerase-immortalized human corneal epithelial cell line to generate a full thickness epithelium in vivo in athymic mice. Methods: Telomerized corneal epithelial cells were transduced with a retroviral vector encoding the herpes simplex thymidine kinase gene. Efficacy of the thymidine kinase suicide gene was confirmed using a live/dead assay. The epithelium was mechanically removed from athymic nude mice and remaining cells were treated with mitomycin C to prevent re-epithelialization. Telomerized corneal epithelial cells were seeded onto the denuded cornea and allowed to adhere for 4 and 24 hours. Cellular attachment was assessed using a fluorescent cell tracker. Stratification and differentiation were assessed after 7 days using phalloidin and a mouse monoclonal antibody to K3 Results: Telomerized corneal epithelial cells were visualized across the denuded stromal surface at 4 and 24 hours, with multi-layering evident at the latter time point. No epithelium was present in the non-treated eye. After 7 days post-transplantation cells stratified into a multilayered epithelium, with positive K3 expression in basal and suprabasal cells. Treatment with ganciclovir induced significant loss of viability in vitro. Conclusions: The findings in this pilot study demonstrate that telomerized corneal epithelial cells possess the capacity to reconstitute a stratified corneal epithelium in vivo. The introduction of thymidine kinase allowed for the successful induction of cell death in proliferating cells in vitro. Collectively, these data suggest that a telomerase-immortalized corneal epithelial cell line transduced with thymidine kinase represents a potential model for studying differentiation and epithelial-niche interactions in vivo with potential applications in tissue engineering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)706-712
Number of pages7
JournalCurrent Eye Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2011


  • Cornea
  • Differentiation
  • Epithelium
  • Limbal niche
  • Telomerase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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