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Human adipose-derived stem cells support the growth of limbal stem/progenitor cells.


The most efficient method to expand limbal stem cells (LSCs) in vitro for clinical transplantation is to culture single LSCs directly on growth-arrested mouse fibroblast 3T3 cells. To reduce possible xenobiotic contamination from 3T3s, primary human adipose-derived stem cells (ASCs) were examined as feeder cells to support the expansion of LSCs in vitro. To optimize the ASC-supported culture, freshly isolated limbal epithelial cells in the form of single cells (SC-ASC) or cell clusters (CC-ASC) were cultured using three different methods: LSCs seeded directly on feeder cells, a 3-dimensional (3D) culture system and a 3D culture system with fibrin (fibrin 3D). The expanded LSCs were examined at the end of a 2-week culture. The standard 3T3 culture served as control. Expansion of SC-ASC showed limited proliferation and exhibited differentiated morphology. CC-ASC generated epithelial cells with undifferentiated morphology in all culture methods, among which CC-ASC in 3D culture supported the highest cell doubling (cells doubled 9.0 times compared to cells doubled 4.9 times in control) while maintained the percentage of putative limbal stem/progenitor cells compared to the control. There were few cell-cell contacts between cultured LSCs and ASCs in 3D CC-ASC. In conclusion, ASCs support the growth of LSCs in the form of cell clusters but not in single cells. 3D CC-ASC could serve as a substitute for the standard 3T3 culture to expand LSCs.

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