Importin13 (IPO13), the newest member of importin-β family discovered recently, is a unique nucleus-cytoplasm bidirectional transport receptor protein. In this study, IPO13 expression in human corneal tissue, limbal epithelial primary explant and clonal culture was evaluated by immunostaining and reverse-transcription polymerase chain reasgon. IPO13 function was evaluated in the corneal epithelial culture treated with IPO13 inhibitor, or fetal bovine serum (FBS)-containing Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium (DMEM) medium by colony-forming efficiency, clone growth capacity, MTT, immunostaining, and Western blotting assay. IPO13 protein was expressed mainly in nuclei of limbal epithelial basal cells, but not in the other cell layers of limbus and full thickness of corneal epithelia. IPO13 was expressed in the majority of epithelial cells in early-stage clones and in the margin of late-stage clones. IPO13 was positively expressed in mouse TKE2 progenitor cells cultured in keratinocyte serum-free defined medium, while it became negative in FBS-containing DMEM, which promoted TKE2 cell differentiation. In the presence of IPO13 inhibitor, IPO13 expression and the proliferative capacity decreased in human limbal epithelial clones and mouse TKE2 cells, which were accompanied with the cell differentiation. In conclusion, our findings demonstrate for the first time that IPO13 is uniquely expressed by human limbal basal epithelial cells, and plays an important role in maintaining the phenotype, high proliferative potential, and less differentiation of corneal epithelial progenitor cells, suggesting that IPO13 could serve as a novel potential marker for corneal epithelial progenitor cells.
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