Limbal epithelial stem cells (LESCs) are tissue-specific stem cells responsible for renewing the corneal epithelium. Acute trauma or chronic disease affecting LESCs may disrupt corneal epithelial renewal, causing vision threatening and painful ocular surface disorders, collectively referred to as LESC deficiency (LESCD). These disorders cannot be treated with traditional corneal transplantation and therefore alternative cell sources for successful cell-based therapy are needed. LESCs derived from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) are a prospective source for ocular surface reconstruction, yet critical evaluation of these cells is crucial before considering clinical applications. In order to quantitatively evaluate hPSC-derived LESCs, we compared protein expression in native human corneal cells to that in hPSC-derived LESCs using isobaric tag for relative and absolute quantitation (iTRAQ) technology. We identified 860 unique proteins present in all samples, including proteins involved in cell cycling, proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis, various LESC niche components, and limbal and corneal epithelial markers. Protein expression profiles were nearly identical in LESCs derived from two different hPSC lines, indicating that the differentiation protocol is reproducible, yielding homogeneous cell populations. Their protein expression profile suggests that hPSC-derived LESCs are similar to the human ocular surface epithelial cells, and possess LESC-like characteristics.
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