Tear cytokines in acute and chronic ocular allergic inflammation

Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2004 Oct;4(5):441-5. doi: 10.1097/00130832-200410000-00018.


Purpose of review: Elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines have been reported in tears from ocular allergic disease states. The purpose of this review is to assimilate recent research contrasting tear cytokine concentrations in non-allergic subjects versus subjects with acute (seasonal allergic conjunctivitis) and chronic (giant papillary conjunctivitis, vernal keratoconjunctivitis, atopic keratoconjunctivitis) ocular allergic inflammation to discover whether the cytokine profiles could provide useful insight into disease mechanisms and therapeutic targets.

Recent findings: Recent studies have revealed distinct differences in the cytokine/chemokine concentrations in tears between the various manifestations of ocular allergy. The acute (seasonal allergic conjunctivitis) and iatrogenic (giant papillary conjunctivitis) forms of ocular allergic inflammation are characterized by an overall lack of significant cytokine changes in tears compared with chronic disease (vernal keratoconjunctivitis, atopic keratoconjunctivitis). Chronic ocular allergic inflammation produces increased concentrations of T helper 1 and 2, and proinflammatory cytokines as well as chemokines. However, vernal and atopic keratoconjunctivitis portray distinct differences in the patterns of tear cytokines/chemokines expressed.

Summary: The plethora of increased cytokines and chemokines in vernal and atopic keratoconjunctivitis compared with non-allergic, seasonal allergic conjunctivitis and giant papillary conjunctivitis provides a new perspective into the complex inflammatory processes occurring on the ocular surface in chronic disease. The ability to measure multiple cytokines in tears, combined with knowledge obtained from in-vitro analysis of the individual and combined effects of these cytokines on various conjunctival cells (i.e. mast cells, epithelial cells, fibroblasts) has facilitated further understanding of specific processes contributing to maintenance of inflammation and progression of vision-threatening disease and paved the way toward new therapeutic targets.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Chronic Disease
  • Conjunctivitis, Allergic / immunology*
  • Cytokines / analysis
  • Cytokines / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Keratoconjunctivitis / immunology*
  • Tears / chemistry
  • Tears / immunology*


  • Cytokines