Demonstration of the mucous layer of the tear film by electron microscopy

Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 1985 Apr;26(4):464-73.


The mucous layer on the ocular surface maintains the stability, spread, and coherence of the tear film and is essential for normal vision. In spite of its importance, the precise thickness and localization of mucus on the surface of the eye are not known because it is not preserved in conventional electron-microscopic preparations. The authors used two different methods to show mucus on the guinea pig cornea and conjunctiva. First, the authors precipitated mucous glycoproteins by adding a quaternary ammonium compound, either cetylpyridinium chloride or hexadecyltrimethylammonium bromide, to aldehyde fixatives. This procedure stabilized the mucus over the goblet cells and adjacent epithelium, although the mucous layer was not preserved uniformly in other areas. Tannic acid intensely stained mucus precipitated by these methods and showed it to be 0.8 micron thick on the cornea and 1.4 micron thick on the conjunctiva. To confirm these results, the authors also prepared specimens of cornea and conjunctiva by freeze substitution. This technique preserved the mucus in a smooth, uninterrupted layer. The thickness of the mucus was somewhat variable; it measured 1.0 micron over the cornea and varied from 2.0 to 7.0 micron over the conjunctiva because of the greater irregularity of the tissue. The authors' results show that mucus constitutes a considerable part of the precorneal tear film and is thicker than was recognized formerly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conjunctiva / ultrastructure*
  • Cornea / ultrastructure*
  • Epithelium / ultrastructure
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Hydrolyzable Tannins
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Mucous Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Staining and Labeling
  • Tears / cytology*


  • Hydrolyzable Tannins