Human corneal fibroblasts (HCF) and corneal stromal stem cells (CSSC) each secrete and organize a thick stroma-like extracellular matrix in response to different substrata, but neither cell type organizes matrix on tissue-culture polystyrene. This study compared cell differentiation and extracellular matrix secreted by these two cell types when they were cultured on identical substrata, polycarbonate Transwell filters. After 4 weeks in culture, both cell types upregulated expression of genes marking differentiated keratocytes (KERA, CHST6, AQP1, B3GNT7). Absolute expression levels of these genes and secretion of keratan sulfate proteoglycans were significantly greater in CSSC than HCF. Both cultures produced extensive extracellular matrix of aligned collagen fibrils types I and V, exhibiting cornea-like lamellar structure. Unlike HCF, CSSC produced little matrix in the presence of serum. Construct thickness and collagen organization was enhanced by TGF-ß3. Scanning electron microscopic examination of the polycarbonate membrane revealed shallow parallel grooves with spacing of 200-300 nm, similar to the topography of aligned nanofiber substratum which we previously showed to induce matrix organization by CSSC. These results demonstrate that both corneal fibroblasts and stromal stem cells respond to a specific pattern of topographical cues by secreting highly organized extracellular matrix typical of corneal stroma. The data also suggest that the potential for matrix secretion and organization may not be directly related to the expression of molecular markers used to identify differentiated keratocytes.