The cellular mechanisms of dry eye: from pathogenesis to treatment

J Cell Physiol. 2013 Dec;228(12):2253-6. doi: 10.1002/jcp.24398.


Dry eye is a complex disease characterized by changes in the ocular surface epithelia related to reduced quality and/or quantity of tears, inflammatory reaction, and impairment of ocular surface sensitivity. It has recently been proposed that increased tear osmolarity represents a main trigger to the altered cellular mechanisms leading to epithelial damage in dry eye. However, dry eye pathogenesis is multifactorial, with cytotoxic inflammatory mediators, altered lacrimal gland secretion and nerve function, squamous metaplasia of the conjunctival epithelium and decrease of goblet cells density, all playing a role in a detrimental loop that perpetuates and worsens damage to the corneal and conjunctival epithelia. Current topical treatments for dry eye patients include the use of lubricants and anti-inflammatory drugs. However, lubricants only improve symptoms temporarily, and chronic use of topical steroids is associated to severe ocular side effects such as cataract and glaucoma. The deeper understanding of the cellular mechanisms that are altered in dry eye is opening novel perspectives for patients and physicians, who are seeking treatments capable not only of improving symptoms but also of restoring the homeostasis of the ocular surface. In this review, we will focus on novel anti-inflammatory agents and on nerve growth factor, a neurotrophin that is altered in dry eye and has been suggested as a main player in the neuroimmune cross-talk of the ocular surface as well as in the stimulation of corneal sensitivity, epithelial proliferation and differentiation, and stimulation of mucin production by goblet cells. J. Cell. Physiol. 228: 2253-2256, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Dry Eye Syndromes / drug therapy*
  • Dry Eye Syndromes / metabolism
  • Dry Eye Syndromes / pathology*
  • Epithelium / drug effects
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Epithelium / pathology
  • Goblet Cells / drug effects
  • Goblet Cells / metabolism
  • Goblet Cells / pathology
  • Humans
  • Mucins / metabolism
  • Tears / physiology


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Mucins