Adult human corneal epithelial basement membrane (EBM) and Descemet's membrane (DM) components exhibit heterogeneous distribution. The purpose of the study was to identify changes of these components during postnatal corneal development.
Thirty healthy adult corneas and 10 corneas from 12-day- to 3-year-old children were studied by immunofluorescence with antibodies against BM components.
Type IV collagen composition of infant corneal central EBM over Bowman's layer changed from α1-α2 to α3-α4 chains after 3 years of life; in the adult, α1-α2 chains were retained only in the limbal BM. Laminin α2 and β2 chains were present in the adult limbal BM where epithelial stem cells are located. By 3 years of age, β2 chain appeared in the limbal BM. In all corneas, limbal BM contained laminin γ3 chain. In the infant DM, type IV collagen α1-α6 chains, perlecan, nidogen-1, nidogen-2, and netrin-4 were found on both faces, but they remained only on the endothelial face of the adult DM. The stromal face of the infant but not the adult DM was positive for tenascin-C, fibrillin-1, SPARC, and laminin-332. Type VIII collagen shifted from the endothelial face of infant DM to its stromal face in the adult. Matrilin-4 largely disappeared after the age of 3 years.
The distribution of laminin γ3 chain, nidogen-2, netrin-4, matrilin-2, and matrilin-4 is described in the cornea for the first time. The observed differences between adult and infant corneal BMs may relate to changes in their mechanical strength, corneal cell adhesion and differentiation in the process of postnatal corneal maturation.