Alteration of epithelial paracellular permeability during corneal epithelial wound healing

A. J.W. Huang, S. C.G. Tseng, K. R. Kenyon

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We studied the paracellular permeability to mannitol of corneas with epithelium of corneal, limbal, or conjunctival origin. Corneas with epithelial defects reepithelialized by corneal or limbal epithelium were nonvascularized; the corneal permeability was initially increased and returned to normal 3 days later. When epithelial defects extended beyond the limbus, they were healed by conjunctival epithelium. If corneas remained avascular or minimally vascularized, the conjunctiva-derived epithelium underwent a transdifferentiation process into a cornealike morphology in which the corneal permeability was initially increased upon complete reepithelialization, and gradually decreased to a level similar to that of normal cornea, 4 weeks after healing. However, when corneas became vascularized, the conjunctiva-derived epithelium retained its original phenotype, and corneal permeability remained increased throughout the 8-month period of study. The deranged barrier functions noted in the above vascularized cornea were demonstrated further by horseradish peroxidase tracer, which was found in the intercellular spaces of conjunctiva-derived epithelium of vascularized corneas but not in the avascular corneas with epithelia of corneal or limbal origin, or transdifferentiated conjunctival epithelium. To study further the effect of subsequent ocular surface trauma, conjunctival biopsy was performed on transdifferentiated avascular corneas 3 months after initial wounding. The biopsy resulted in extensive vascularization in three of eight previously nonvascularized corneas. Two weeks later, the corneal permeability was increased to a level similar to that of conjunctiva. These results indicate that corneal epithelial paracellular permeability correlates well with the status of the epithelial phenotype.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)429-435
Number of pages7
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1990


  • Epithelium
  • Neovascularization
  • Paracellular permeability
  • Transdifferentiation
  • Wound healing


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