Wear of low-oxygen-transmissible soft contact lenses swells the cornea significantly, even during open eye. Although oxygen-deficient corneal edema is well-documented, a self-consistent quantitative prediction based on the underlying metabolic reactions is not available. We present a biochemical description of the human cornea that quantifies hypoxic swelling through the coupled transport of water, salt, and respiratory metabolites. Aerobic and anaerobic consumption of glucose, as well as acidosis and pH buffering, are incorporated in a seven-layer corneal model (anterior chamber, endothelium, stroma, epithelium, postlens tear film, contact lens, and prelens tear film). Corneal swelling is predicted from coupled transport of water, dissolved salts, and especially metabolites, along with membrane-transport resistances at the endothelium and epithelium. At the endothelium, the Na+/K+ - ATPase electrogenic channel actively transports bicarbonate ion from the stroma into the anterior chamber. As captured by the Kedem-Katchalsky membrane-transport formalism, the active bicarbonate-ion flux provides the driving force for corneal fluid pump-out needed to match the leak-in tendency of the stroma. Increased lactate-ion production during hypoxia osmotically lowers the pump-out rate requiring the stroma to swell to higher water content. Concentration profiles are predicted for glucose, water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and hydronium, lactate, bicarbonate, sodium, and chloride ions, along with electrostatic potential and pressure profiles. Although the active bicarbonate-ion pump at the endothelium drives bicarbonate into the aqueous humor, we find a net flux of bicarbonate ion into the cornea that safeguards against acidosis. For the first time, we predict corneal swelling upon soft-contact-lens wear from fundamental biophysico-chemical principles. We also successfully predict that hypertonic tear alleviates contact-lens-induced edema.
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