N-Cadherin Is Expressed by Putative Stem/Progenitor Cells and Melanocytes in the Human Limbal Epithelial Stem Cell Niche



Corneal epithelial stem cells are known to be localized to the basal layer of the limbal epithelium, providing a model system for epithelial stem cell biology; however, the mechanisms regarding the maintenance of these stem cells in their specialized niche remain poorly understood. N-cadherin is a member of the classic cadherin family and has previously been demonstrated to be expressed by hematopoietic stem cells. In the present study, we demonstrate that N-cadherin is expressed by putative stem/progenitor cells, as well as melanocytes, in the human limbal epithelial stem cell niche. In addition, we demonstrate that upon in vitro culture using 3T3 feeder layers, loss of N-cadherin expression occurs with cell proliferation. These results indicate that N-cadherin may be a critical cell-to-cell adhesion molecule between corneal epithelial stem/progenitor cells and their corresponding niche cells in the limbal epithelium.