The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 48: 197 - 201 (2004)

Vol 48, Issue 2-3

Special Issue: Skin Development

Transdifferentiation of corneal epithelium: evidence for a linkage between the segregation of epidermal stem cells and the induction of hair follicles during embryogenesis

Published: 1 April 2004

David J Pearton, Corinne Ferraris and Danielle Dhouailly

BDE-LEDAC UMR CNRS 5538, Institut Albert Bonniot, Université Joseph Fourier, Grenoble, France.


Corneal epithelium transdifferentiation into a hair-bearing epidermis provides a particularly useful system for studying the possibility that transient amplifying (TA) cells are able to activate different genetic programs in response to a change in their fibroblast environment, as well as to follow the different steps of rebuilding an epidermis from induced stem cells. Corneal stem and TA cells are found in different locations - stem cells at the periphery, in the limbus, and TA cells more central. Moreover, the TA cells already express the differentiating corneal-type keratin pair K3/K12, whereas the limbal keratinocytes express the basal keratin pair K5/K14. In contrast, suprabasal epidermal keratinocytes express keratin pair K1-2/K10, and basal keratinocytes the keratin pair K5/K14. The results of tissue recombination experiments show that adult central corneal cells are able to respond to specific information originating from embryonic dermis. First, the cells located at the base of the corneal epithelium show a decrease in expression of K12 keratin, followed by an increase in K5 expression; they then proliferate and form hair follicles. The first K10 expressing cells appear at the junction of the new hair follicles and the covering corneal epithelium. Their expansion finally gives rise to epidermal strata, which displace the corneal suprabasal keratinocytes. Corneal TA cells can thus be reprogrammed to form epidermal cells, first by reverting to a basal epithelial-type, then to hair pegs and probably concomitantly to hair stem cells. This confirms the role of the hair as the main reservoir of epidermal stem cells and raises the question of the nature of the dermal messages which are both involved in hair induction and stem cell specification.


cornea, dermo-epidermal interaction, epidermis, transient amplifying cell

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