Surgical treatment of dry eye syndrome: conjunctival graft of the minor salivary gland

J Craniofac Surg. 2004 Jan;15(1):6-10. doi: 10.1097/00001665-200401000-00004.


Despite the availability of efficient tear substitutes, many patients with dry eye syndrome experience severe corneal injuries and a subsequent loss of vision. Surgical techniques using mayor salivary glands to provide a substitute for tears have been reported; with this technique the drainage of saliva goes into the conjunctival fornix, permitting corneal and conjunctival humidification. The authors describe a new surgical approach in which minor salivary glands are autotransplanted into the conjunctival fornix by means of a graft of the intraoral mucosa-transporting salivary glands. This approach was used in a 56-year-old woman with a 2-year history of refractory and pharmacologically untreatable dry eye syndrome caused by Sjögren's syndrome. The right eye had more severe corneal and conjunctival lesions than did the contralateral one, so the treatment was planned in the right eye only. A weekly follow-up during the first 6 months confirmed the significant improvement of dry eye symptoms in the surgically treated eye. Three months after surgery, a biopsy was performed in the minor salivary gland graft, and the histologic findings revealed the presence of glandular acinus, duct with mucin content, and lymphocyte infiltration. The significant improvement obtained in this patient suggests that the secretion from the grafted salivary minor glands was better in promoting homeostasis of the ocular surface than are artificial tears. This may be explained by: (1) The lacrimal and salivary secretions contain biologically active constituents that may protect from infection and promote normal growth epithelium; (2) The secreted mucin is thought to coat the epithelial surface, reducing the high surface tension of the eye wetted by aqueous tears; (3) The thick secretions of the minor gland might act in reducing the evaporation of the underlying tear layer and form a hydrophobic barrier along the lid margin that can retain the lid margin tear string and prevent its flow onto the skin. Minor gland salivary autotransplant is a new surgical technique with effectiveness demonstrated in one patient, but the scientific explanation is not clear; additional experience with more cases could confirm the initial success.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Conjunctiva / surgery
  • Dry Eye Syndromes / etiology
  • Dry Eye Syndromes / surgery*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouth Mucosa / transplantation*
  • Salivary Glands, Minor / transplantation*
  • Sjogren's Syndrome / complications