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Corneal endothelial cells (CECs) are terminally differentiated cells, specialized in regulating corneal hydration and transparency. They are highly polarized flat cells that separate the cornea from the aqueous humor. Their apical surface, in contact with aqueous humor is hexagonal, whereas their basal surface is irregular. We characterized the structure of human CECs in 3D using confocal microscopy of immunostained whole corneas in which cells and their interrelationships remain intact. Hexagonality of the apical surface was maintained by the interaction between tight junctions and a submembraneous network of actomyosin, braced like a drum. Lateral membranes, which support enzymatic pumps, presented complex expansions resembling interdigitated foot processes at the basal surface. Using computer-aided design and drafting software, we obtained a first simplified 3D model of CECs. By comparing their expression with those in epithelial, stromal and trabecular corneal cells, we selected 9 structural or functional proteins for which 3D patterns were specific to CECs. This first 3D map aids our understanding of the morphologic and functional specificity of CECs and could be used as a reference for characterizing future cell therapy products destined to treat endothelial dysfunctions.

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.