Background/aims The limbus is a remarkable anatomical site endowed with specialised functions to ensure corneal health and transparency, which is essential for exquisite vision. Cell types that contribute to homeostasis and the disease-free state of the cornea include epithelial and stromal stem cells, and antigen-presenting dendritic cells (DCs). DCs are found throughout the corneal epithelium and stroma, but the protein markers that discriminate between cells in different locations have not been properly identified. S100 proteins are expressed in normal and diseased ocular surfaces and are implicated in DC differentiation.
Methods This study used transplant quality human cadaveric donor corneas (n=6) and immunofluorescence to determine the spatial distributions of S100A8 (A8) and S100A9 (A9), and to characterise the cell types expressing these proteins.
Results A8-expressing and A9-expressing cells were predominantly confined to the limbal stroma and represented 0.25%±0.1% and 0.39%±0.1%, respectively, of the total stromal cell population. They were phenotyped as CD45+/HLA-DR+/CD11c+, markers characteristic of DCs. Interestingly, A8 and A9 immunoreactivity was only associated with stromal DCs, but not those entrenched in the epithelium.
Conclusions A8 and A9 expression may distinguish between subpopulations of DC that reside in different regions of the human cornea and may influence their maturation status.