Accurate diagnosis of dry eye disease (DED) is challenging, and even today there is no gold standard biomarker of DED. Hypothesis-free global metabolomic studies of tears from DED patients have great potential to discover metabolites and pathways affected in the pathophysiology of DED, and to identify possible future biomarkers. These metabolites and biomarkers could be important for diagnosing and monitoring disease as well as for new therapeutic targets and strategies. As DED is associated with dry mouth, this study aimed to perform metabolomic analyses of tears and saliva from patients with decreased tear film break-up time but normal Schirmer test, and age-matched controls with both tear production and stability within physiological range. We applied strict inclusion criteria to reduce sampling bias in the metabolomic analyses and selected only age-matched females with Schirmer test values between 10-15 mm/5 min. The tear film analysis arm included 19 patients (with tear film break-up time 0-5 s) and 12 controls (with tear film break-up time 10-30 s), while the salivary analysis arm consisted of a subset which included 18 patients and six controls. Metabolomic analyses were performed using liquid chromatography and high-resolution mass spectrometry. Analyses using a global database search detected a total of 56 metabolites in tear samples that were significantly different between the groups. Of these, several have known associations with DED. These metabolites are present in meibum and have anti-oxidative characteristics or associations with the ocular microbiome, and altered concentrations suggest that they may play a significant role in DED associated with decreased tear film stability. In saliva, hypotaurine levels were lower among patients with tear film instability. In this pilot study, we found different levels of several metabolites in patients with decreased tear film break-up time that may have associations with DED. Future studies are required to replicate our findings and clarify the exact roles of these metabolites.
Keywords: dry eye disease; metabolomics; xerostomia.