The cornea is one of the few tissues which actively maintain an avascular state, i.e. the absence of blood and lymphatic vessels (corneal [lymph]angiogenic privilege). Nonetheless do several diseases interfere with this privilege and cause pathologic corneal hem- and lymphangiogenesis. The ingrowths of pathologic blood and lymphatic vessels into the cornea not only reduce transparency and thereby visual acuity up to blindness, but also significantly increases the rate of graft rejections after subsequent corneal transplantation. Therefore great interest exists in new strategies to target pathologic corneal (lymph)angiogenesis to promote graft survival. This review gives an overview on the vascular anatomy of the normal ocular surface, on the molecular mechanisms contributing to the corneal (lymph)angiogenic privilege and on the cellular and molecular mechanisms occurring during pathological neovascularization of the cornea. In addition we summarize the current preclinical and clinical evidence for three novel treatment strategies against ocular surface diseases based on targeting pathologic (lymph)angiogenesis: (a) modulation of the immune responses after (corneal) transplantation by targeting pathologic (lymph)angiogenesis prior to and after transplantation, (b) novel concepts against metastasis and recurrence of ocular surface tumors such as malignant melanoma of the conjunctiva by anti(lymph)angiogenic therapy and (c) new ideas on how to target ocular surface inflammatory diseases such as dry eye by targeting conjunctival and corneal lymphatic vessels. Based on compelling preclinical evidence and early data from clinical trials the novel therapeutic concepts of promoting graft survival, inhibiting tumor metastasis and dampening ocular surface inflammation and dry eye disease by targeting (lymph)angiogenesis are on their way to translation into the clinic.
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