Understanding of dry eye syndrome (DES) today is driven by in vivo analysis of tear osmolarity, tear film break up time, impression cytology and description of symptoms. Existing in vivo models of DES need severe alterations of tear production or corneal integrity. For a more detailed analysis of DES under particular environmental and treatment conditions a considerable lack of in vitro methods exists. The main disadvantage of current in vitro models is the limited experimental time frame of only several hours and the impossibility to evaluate healing of epithelial defects. In the present study, evidence is given that these restrictions can be overcome by modifying the established Ex Vivo Eye Irritation Test (EVEIT) to realize a model system for DES. This test is based on abattoir rabbit eyes allowing an experimental time frame of up to 21 days using self-healing corneal cultures. In first experiments it is demonstrated that different severity levels of dry eye can be simulated in the EVEIT system. High-resolution optical coherence tomography (OCT) is applied to monitor the initial phase of DES under evaporative stress acting on the cornea. We observed changes in corneal layer thicknesses and in scattering properties of the stroma, which are sensitive indicators of environmental stress leading to irritation of the ocular surface under dry eye conditions. The combination of corneal culture under desiccating conditions and OCT monitoring offers a new perspective in understanding and treating of DES and is expected to allow for significant pharmacological screening tests.
Copyright 2010 S. Karger AG, Basel.