Cell Morphology as an In Vivo Parameter for the Diagnosis of Limbal Stem Cell Deficiency.

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Public Summary:
The aim of this study is to evaluate the shape of basal corneal epithelial cells to determine changes in limbal stem cell deficiency eyes.
Scientific Abstract:
PURPOSE: The aim of this study was to investigate basal epithelial cell morphology (CM) in the central cornea and limbal areas of eyes with limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD). METHODS: This was a prospective, cross-sectional comparative study. We developed a CM scoring system based on basal epithelial cell phenotypes graded from 0 (normal) to 3 (severe morphologic alterations); this system was evaluated by 2 independent masked observers. The CM score was compared with the LSCD clinical score, mean best-corrected visual acuity, and in vivo laser scanning confocal microscopy parameters used to stage LSCD (ie, basal epithelial cell density, basal epithelial thickness, and subbasal corneal nerve fiber length density). RESULTS: One hundred sixty-eight eyes with LSCD and 63 normal eyes were included. Compared with the control group, the LSCD group had significantly higher mean (+/-SD) CM scores in the central cornea (1.8 +/- 0.7 vs. 0.5 +/- 0.4, respectively; P = 0.01) and limbal areas (1.6 +/- 0.2 vs. 1.3 +/- 0.0, respectively; P < 0.05). The mean CM score in the central cornea was positively correlated with the clinical score ( P < 0.01, r = 0.66) and negatively correlated with the best-corrected visual acuity ( P < 0.01, r = 0.42). The CM scores were positively correlated with all other in vivo laser scanning confocal microscopy parameters in the central cornea and limbal areas (all P < 0.001). CONCLUSIONS: Basal epithelial CM is altered in the central cornea and limbus of eyes with LSCD and thus can be used to stage the clinical severity of the disease.