PURPOSE. To elucidate the expression pattern of K15, K19, K14, and K12 in human and mouse ocular surface epithelium as putative markers of epithelial phenotype. METHODS. Immunohistochemical staining with specific antibodies for K15, K19, K14, and K12 was performed in human donor cornea tissue and normal ICR mouse corneas, with emphasis on localization of immunopositive cells. Immunohistochemistry was performed in a limbus-deficient mouse model as well as in clinical samples of pannus surgically removed from a thermal burn and a patient with Saltzmann's dystrophy. Staining patterns were classified as limited to the most basal layer (Kbas), basal and suprabasal layers (K bas-sup), predominantly in suprabasal layers (Ksup) and negative staining (K-). RESULTS. In human conjunctival epithelium, strong expression of K15 was observed in basal cells, whereas K19 was expressed in both basal and suprabasal layers (K15bas/K19bas-sup/ K12-). Limbal epithelial cells were K15bas-sup/K19 bas-sup/K12sup, whereas epithelial cells in the central cornea were K15-/K19bas-sup/K12bas-sup. In contrast the mouse ocular surface demonstrated a different expression pattern of K15 and K19 than did the human tissue in the conjunctiva (K15 bas-sup/K19bas/K12-) and the limbus (K15 bas-sup/K19bas/K12sup). Neither K15 nor K19 was expressed in the central mouse cornea (K15-/K19-/K12 bas-sup). Similar cytokeratin expression was observed in conjunctivalized corneas in mice and in surgically removed pannus tissue. CONCLUSIONS. Although the expression of K15 and K19 differ in humans and mice, specific staining patterns can be used to characterize the epithelial phenotype in normal and diseased ocular surface.
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