Mast cells populate the corneoscleral limbus: New insights for our understanding of limbal microenvironment

Alessandra Micera, Katerina Jirsova, Graziana Esposito, Bijorn Omar Balzamino, Antonio Di Zazzo, Stefano Bonini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


PURPOSE. Although stem cell activity represents a crucial feature in corneal and ocular surface homeostasis, other cells populating this region and the neighboring zones might participate and influence local microenvironment. Mast cells, the long-lived and tissue-sited immune cells, have been previously reported in corneoscleral specimens. Herein, mast cells were investigated in corneoscleral tissues and related to microenvironment protein expression. METHODS. Twenty-six (14 male/12 female; older than 60 years) human corneoscleral specimens were sectioned for light and fluorescent immunostaining (CD45, p63, Ck-3/7/12/19, tryptase/AA1, and chymase/CC1). Corneal, limbal, and conjunctival squares were produced for molecular and biochemical analysis. Statistical comparisons were carried out by ANOVA. RESULTS. Toluidine blue staining identified metachromatic intact or degranulated mast cells in the area below the palisades’ Vogt (Ck-3/12-positive epithelium and underneath p63 immunoreactivity). Tryptase immunoreactivity was observed close to palisades’ Vogt, whereas no specific signal was detected for chymase. Tryptase/AA1 transcripts were quantified in limbal and conjunctival RNA extracts, whereas no specific amplification was detected in corneal ones. Few mediators were overexpressed in limbal extracts with respect to corneal (Neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM), Intercellular adhesion molecule 3 (ICAM3), Brain-derived Neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and neurotrophin 3 (NT3); P < 0.00083) and conjunctival (NCAM, ICAM3, and NT3; P < 0.05) protein extracts. A trend to an increase was observed for Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in limbal extracts (P > 0.05). CONCLUSIONS. The specific observation of tryptase phenotype and the interesting protein signature of microenvironment (adhesion molecules, growth factors, and neurotrophins), known to partake mast cell behavior, at least in other areas, would provide additional information to better understand this crucial zone in the framework of ocular surface healthiness.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2763610
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • Corneoscleral limbus
  • Mast cells
  • Microenvironment
  • NGF
  • Ocular surface
  • Protein signature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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