This study utilizes high resolution multi-dimensional imaging to identify temporal and spatial changes in cell/extracellular matrix (ECM) patterning mediating cell migration, fibrosis, remodeling and regeneration during wound healing. Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) was performed on rabbits. In some cases, 5([4,6-dichlorotriazin-2yl]-amino)fluorescein (DTAF) was applied immediately after surgery to differentiate native vs. cell-secreted collagen. Corneas were assessed 3–180 days postoperatively using in vivo confocal microscopy, and cell/ECM patterning was evaluated in situ using multiphoton and second harmonic generation (SHG) imaging. 7 days post-PRK, migrating fibroblasts below the ablation site were co-aligned with the stromal lamellae. At day 21, randomly patterned myofibroblasts developed on top of the ablation site; whereas cells underneath were elongated, co-aligned with collagen, and lacked stress fibers. Over time, fibrotic tissue was remodeled into more transparent stromal lamellae. By day 180, stromal thickness was almost completely restored. Stromal regrowth occurred primarily below the ablation interface, and was characterized by co-localization of gaps in DTAF labeling with elongated cells and SHG collagen signaling. Punctate F-actin labeling was detected along cells co-aligned with DTAF and non-DTAF labeled collagen, suggesting cell-ECM interactions. Overall, collagen lamellae appear to provide a template for fibroblast patterning during wound healing that mediates stromal repopulation, regeneration and remodeling.
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