The cornea is critical for normal vision as it allows allowing light transmission to the retina. The corneal epithelium is renewed by limbal epithelial cells (LEC), which are located in the periphery of the cornea, the limbus. Damage or disease involving LEC may lead to various clinical presentations of limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD). Both severe pain and blindness may result. Transplantation of cultured autologous oral mucosal epithelial cell sheet (CAOMECS) represents the first use of a cultured non-limbal autologous cell type to treat this disease. Among non-limbal cell types, CAOMECS and conjunctival epithelial cells are the only laboratory cultured cell sources that have been explored in humans. Thus far, the expression of p63 is the only predictor of clinical outcome following transplantation to correct LSCD. The optimal culture method and substrate for CAOMECS is not established. The present review focuses on cell culture methods, with particular emphasis on substrates. Most culture protocols for CAOMECS used amniotic membrane as a substrate and included the xenogeneic components fetal bovine serum and murine 3T3 fibroblasts. However, it has been demonstrated that tissue-engineered epithelial cell sheet grafts can be successfully fabricated using temperature-responsive culture surfaces and autologous serum. In the studies using different substrates for culture of CAOMECS, the quantitative expression of p63 was generally poorly reported; thus, more research is warranted with quantification of phenotypic data. Further research is required to develop a culture system for CAOMECS that mimics the natural environment of oral/limbal/corneal epithelial cells without the need for undefined foreign materials such as serum and feeder cells.
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