Tear dysfunction and the cornea: LXVIII Edward Jackson Memorial Lecture

Am J Ophthalmol. 2011 Dec;152(6):900-909.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.ajo.2011.08.023. Epub 2011 Oct 22.


Purpose: To describe the cause and consequence of tear dysfunction-related corneal disease.

Design: Perspective on effects of tear dysfunction on the cornea.

Methods: Evidence is presented on the effects of tear dysfunction on corneal morphology, function, and health, as well as efficacy of therapies for tear dysfunction-related corneal disease.

Results: Tear dysfunction is a prevalent eye disease and the most frequent cause for superficial corneal epithelial disease that results in corneal barrier disruption, an irregular optical surface, light scattering, optical aberrations, and exposure and sensitization of pain-sensing nerve endings (nociceptors). Tear dysfunction-related corneal disease causes irritation and visual symptoms such as photophobia and blurred and fluctuating vision that may decrease quality of life. Dysfunction of 1 or more components of the lacrimal functional unit results in changes in tear composition, including elevated osmolarity and increased concentrations of matrix metalloproteinases, inflammatory cytokines, and chemokines. These tear compositional changes promote disruption of tight junctions, alter differentiation, and accelerate death of corneal epithelial cells.

Conclusions: Corneal epithelial disease resulting from tear dysfunction causes eye irritation and decreases visual function. Clinical and basic research has improved understanding of the pathogenesis of tear dysfunction-related corneal epithelial disease, as well as treatment outcomes.

Publication types

  • Lecture
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cornea / physiopathology*
  • Corneal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Lacrimal Apparatus Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Tears / physiology*