Purpose: To evaluate production and activity of metalloproteinase (MMP)-9 on the ocular surface of patients with dysfunctional tear syndrome (DTS) and determine any correlation between MMP-9 activity and clinical parameters.
Methods: Forty-six patients with newly diagnosed DTS and 18 control subjects were recruited. Complete ocular surface examinations were performed. Tear MMP-9 activity was assessed with an MMP-9 activity assay in 1 microL of unstimulated tear fluid. Using conjunctival epithelial cells from 19 patients with DTS and 16 controls, levels of MMP-9 and its regulating cytokine mRNA transcripts were evaluated by semiquantitative real-time PCR.
Results: Each of four DTS severity-based groups had significantly higher mean MMP-9 activities than did the control group, which was 8.39 +/- 4.70 ng/mL. The DTS4 group had the highest MMP-9 activity (381.24 +/- 142.83 ng/mL), for which the mean was significantly higher than that of other DTS groups. In addition, patients with DTS had significantly higher levels of IL-1beta, IL-6, TNF-alpha, and TGF-beta1 mRNA transcripts in their conjunctival epithelia than did the control subjects. Tear MMP-9 activities showed significant correlation with symptom severity scores, decreased low-contrast visual acuity, fluorescein tear break-up time, corneal and conjunctival fluorescein staining, topographic surface regularity index (SRI), and percentage area of abnormal superficial corneal epithelia by confocal microscopy.
Conclusions: Tear MMP-9 activity was significantly higher in patients with DTS. This activity was associated with increased mRNA expression of MMP-9 and its regulating genes and correlated strongly with clinical parameters. MMP-9 appears to be a potentially useful biomarker for diagnosing, classifying, and monitoring DTS.