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Differentiated from adult stem cells (ASCs), transit-amplifying cells (TACs) play an important role in tissue homeostasis, development, and regeneration. This study aimed to characterize the gene expression profile of a candidate TAC population in limbal basal epithelial cells using single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq). Single cells isolated from the basal corneal limbus were subjected to scRNA-seq using the 10x Genomics platform. Cell types were clustered by graph-based visualization methods and unbiased computational analysis. BrdU proliferation assays, immunofluorescent staining, and real-time reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction were performed using multiple culture models of primary human limbal epithelial cells to characterize the TAC pool. Single-cell transcriptomics of 16,360 limbal basal cells revealed 12 cell clusters. A unique cluster (3.21% of total cells) was identified as a TAC entity, based on its less differentiated progenitor status and enriched exclusive proliferation marker genes, with 98.1% cells in S and G2/M phases. The cell cycle-dependent genes were revealed to be largely enriched by the TAC population. The top genes were characterized morphologically and functionally at protein and mRNA levels. The specific expression patterns of RRM2, TK1, CENPF, NUSAP1, UBE2C, and CDC20 were well correlated in a time- and cycle-dependent manner with proliferation stages in the cell growth and regeneration models. For the first time, to the best of our knowledge, we have identified a unique TAC entity and uncovered a group of cell cycle-dependent genes that serve as TAC signature markers. The findings provide insight into ASCs and TACs and lay the foundation for understanding corneal homeostasis and diseases.


Jin-Miao Li, Sangbae Kim, Yun Zhang, Fang Bian, Jiaoyue Hu, Rong Lu, Stephen C Pflugfelder, Rui Chen, De-Quan Li. Single-Cell Transcriptomics Identifies a Unique Entity and Signature Markers of Transit-Amplifying Cells in Human Corneal Limbus. Investigative ophthalmology & visual science. 2021 Jul 01;62(9):36

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PMID: 34297801

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