Allergic chronic inflammation of the ocular surface in vernal keratoconjunctivitis

Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003 Oct;3(5):381-7. doi: 10.1097/00130832-200310000-00011.


Purpose of review: The purpose of this review is to describe the new immunopathologic features of vernal keratoconjunctivitis: the involvement of cytokines, growth factors, cells, mediators and neurotransmitters, as well as the mechanism leading to tissue remodelling.

Recent findings: Vernal keratoconjunctivitis is an allergic eye disease affecting young boys living in a warm climate. It is characterized by conjunctival giant papillae, hyperemia and frequent involvement of the cornea. Approximately 50% of the patients with vernal keratoconjunctivitis do not have a family or medical history of atopic diseases, and do not show IgE sensitization, suggesting that this disease is not solely IgE mediated. Vernal keratoconjunctivitis is a Th2 lymphocyte driven disease with a Th2 cytokine derived pattern, increased levels of mRNA for IL-3, IL-4, IL-5 and IL-13. Th2 lymphocytes induce IgE hyperproduction, activation of mast cells, eosinophils, neutrophils and their toxic products. An overexpression of adhesion molecules, RANTES, eotaxin and metalloproteinases contribute to chronic inflammation. A role for substance P and nerve growth factor has been postulated, as well as for other growth factors (epidermal growth factor, fibroblast growth factor and transforming growth factor beta 1) that induce fibroblast growth and new collagen production. Recent studies have also pointed out the role of resident conjunctival cells, such as epithelial cells and fibroblasts, in the inflammatory and remodelling process of vernal keratoconjunctivitis. The pathogenesis of the condition is probably multifactorial, with the interaction of the immune, nervous and endocrine systems.

Summary: Vernal keratoconjunctivitis is a chronic inflammatory and potentially blinding disease. Understanding of the complex interactions and cross talk between cells, cytokines and other mediators is relevant for new therapeutic approaches.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease
  • Conjunctivitis, Allergic / diagnosis
  • Conjunctivitis, Allergic / immunology*
  • Conjunctivitis, Allergic / physiopathology*
  • Conjunctivitis, Allergic / therapy
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / immunology*
  • Male


  • Immunologic Factors