A single cell transcriptome atlas reveals the heterogeneity of the healthy human cornea and identifies novel markers of the corneal limbus and stroma
The cornea is the clear window that lets light into the eye. It is composed of five layers: epithelium, Bowman layer, stroma, Descemet membrane and endothelium. The maintenance of its structure and transparency are determined by the functions of the different cell types populating each layer. Attempts to regenerate corneal tissue and understand disease conditions requires knowledge of how cell profiles vary across this heterogeneous tissue. We performed a single cell transcriptomic profiling of
... 19,472 cells isolated from eight healthy donor corneas. Our analysis delineates the heterogeneity of the corneal layers by identifying cell populations and revealing cell states that contribute in preserving corneal homeostasis. We identified that the expression of CAV1, CXCL14, HOMER3 and CPVL were exclusive to the corneal epithelial limbal stem cell niche, CKS2, STMN1 and UBE2C were exclusively expressed in highly proliferative transit amplifying cells, and NNMT was exclusively expressed by stromal keratocytes. Overall, this research provides a basis to improve current primary cell expansion protocols, for future profiling of corneal disease states, to help guide pluripotent stem cells into different corneal lineages, and to understand how engineered substrates affect corneal cells to improve regenerative therapies.