In vivo fluorescent labeling of corneal wound healing fibroblasts

Joel Gatlin, Michael W. Melkus, Angela Padgett, Walter M Petroll, Harrison D Cavanagh, J. Victor Garcia, James V. Jester

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Numerous studies have shown that fibroblasts play an important role in corneal wound healing, however, the dynamic cellular events underlying wound tissue organization and contraction remain unclear. The purpose of this study was to develop a system to enable live cell imaging of corneal wound healing fibroblasts in situ. To this end, concentrated preparations of an RD114 pseudotyped MLV-based vector expressing the enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) were evaluated in vitro for gene transfer efficiency using cultured rabbit corneal keratocytes. Primary rabbit keratocytes were efficiently labeled in vitro (up to 50% EGFP+) at a low multiplicity of infection (MOI=10). To evaluate this gene transfer vector in vivo, rabbit corneal fibroblasts were transduced by direct application of vector supernatant to injured corneas following lamellar keratectomy. Fluorescent fibroblasts were then visualized in situ using epifluorescence microscopy and multiphoton confocal microscopy of excised fresh tissue at multiple time points from 14 days to four months following gene transfer. Fourteen days post-transduction, labeled fibroblasts expressing EGFP were readily detectable by fluorescence microscopy. Detectable fluorescence was noted up to eight weeks post-transduction. Labeled fibroblasts were detected in clusters located predominantly along the margin circumscribing the wound and to a lesser extent within the wound area. Cell growth in clusters was suggestive of the expansion of individual transduced clones. High-resolution imaging showed fluorescent fibroblasts to have a broad, flattened, dendritic morphology, distinct from the spindle shape of cultured fibroblasts. Utilizing multiphoton confocal microscopy, three-dimensional imaging of viable, labeled cells showed wound healing fibroblasts to be extensively interconnected and multi-layered within the corneal wound. These results demonstrate that rabbit corneal fibroblasts can be efficiently transduced in vitro and in vivo using RD114 pseudotyped MLV-based vectors and that these vectors direct long-term transgene expression without apparent toxicity, pathogenesis or perturbation of native fibroblast morphology. Our data further suggest that, in vivo, wound-healing fibroblasts have a defined life span within the wound.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)361-371
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Eye Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2003


  • Corneal fibroblasts
  • Corneal wound healing
  • Fluorescent imaging
  • Gene transfer
  • Keratocytes
  • Retrovirus
  • Vector

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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