AIM: To study the influence of cryoprotectant, cooling rate, and warming rate on recovery and viability of keratocytes from corneas for cryolathing. METHODS: Corneas were frozen at -50 degrees C for 2 minutes either after exposure to 10% dimethyl sulphoxide in Eagle's MEM for 15 minutes at room temperature (about 22 degrees C), or without earlier exposure to the cryoprotectant. Corneas were cooled either rapidly (20 degrees C/min) or slowly (1 degree C/min), and they were warmed either rapidly (> 50 degrees C/min) by direct transfer into medium at 22 degrees C or slowly (< 20 degrees C/min) in air at 22 degrees C. The cryoprotectant was removed by dilution in medium containing 0.5 mol/l sucrose. Recovery of keratocytes was determined by using collagenase digestion to release the cells from the stroma and trypan blue staining. Viability was assessed by the outgrowth of cells from stromal explants in primary tissue culture. RESULTS: The use of a cryoprotectant before freezing was beneficial, irrespective of the different cooling and warming regimens. Both collagenase digestion and tissue culture revealed that keratocyte survival was improved when corneas were warmed rapidly rather than slowly. The collagenase digestion assay showed an apparently higher recovery of keratocytes after slow cooling (54.3%) than after rapid cooling (34.1%), but no differences in cell viability could be demonstrated by primary tissue culture. CONCLUSION: Although in these experiments slow cooling apparently provided the best recovery of keratocyte numbers (though not viability), previous work had revealed some disruption of the epithelial basement membrane after slow cooling. If viable keratocytes and good preservation of epithelial basement membrane are considered to be prerequisites for epikeratophakia lenticules then it is suggested that corneas should be prepared for cryolathing by freezing rapidly after exposure to 10% dimethyl sulphoxide and, following cryolathing, they should be warmed rapidly.
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