Regulation of Limbal Epithelial Stem Cells: Importance of the Niche.

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Public Summary:
This review paper describes the evidence so far described in the literature on the importance of the microenvironment/niche for the regulation and the maintenance of the corneal epithelial stem cells.
Scientific Abstract:
Limbal epithelial stem/progenitor cells (LSCs) reside in a niche that contains finely tuned balances of various signaling pathways including Wnt, Notch, BMP, Shh, YAP, and TGFbeta. The activation or inhibition of these pathways is frequently dependent on the interactions of LSCs with various niche cell types and extracellular substrates. In addition to receiving molecular signals from growth factors, cytokines, and other soluble molecules, LSCs also respond to their surrounding physical structure via mechanotransduction, interaction with the ECM, and interactions with other cell types. Damage to LSCs or their niche leads to limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD). The field of LSCD treatment would greatly benefit from an understanding of the molecular regulation of LSCs in vitro and in vivo. This review synthesizes current literature around the niche factors and signaling pathways that influence LSC function. Future development of LSCD therapies should consider all these niche factors to achieve improved long-term restoration of the LSC population.