Biomarkers of in vivo limbal stem cell function.

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Public Summary:
The purpose of this study is to evaluate markers in the eye that can predict and help diagnose limbal stem cell deficiency. This markers include the number of cells in the cornea, the thickness of the corneal epithelium and the presence of nerves. A formula that has into account all of these markers was generated to diagnose limbal stem cell deficiency.
Scientific Abstract:
PURPOSE: To evaluate in vivo parameters as biomarkers of limbal stem cell function and to establish an objective system that detects and stage limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD). METHODS: A total of 126 patients (172 eyes) with LSCD and 67 normal subjects (99 eyes) were included in this observational cross-sectional comparative study. Slit-lamp biomicroscopy, in vivo laser scanning confocal microscopy (IVCM), and anterior segment optical coherence tomography (AS-OCT) were performed to obtain the following: clinical score, cell morphology score, basal cell density (BCD), central corneal epithelial thickness (CET), limbal epithelial thickness (LET), total corneal nerve fiber length (CNFL), corneal nerve fiber density (CNFD), corneal nerve branch density (CNBD), and tortuosity coefficient. Their potential correlations with the severity of LSCD were investigated, and cutoff values were determined. RESULTS: An increase clinical score correlated with a decrease in central cornea BCD, limbal BCD, CET, mean LET, maximum LET, CNFL, CNFD, CNBD, and tortuosity coefficient. Regression analyses showed that central cornea BCD, CET and CNFL were the best parameters to differentiate LSCD from normal eyes (Coef = 3.123, 3.379, and 2.223; all p < 0.05). The rank correlation analysis showed a similar outcome between the clinical scores and the central cornea BCD (rho = 0.79), CET (rho = 0.82), and CNFL (rho = 0.71). A comprehensive LSCD grading formula based on a combination of these parameters was established. CONCLUSIONS: A comprehensive staging system combining clinical presentation, central cornea BCD, CET, and CNFL is established to accurately and objectively diagnose LSCD and stage its severity.