Penetration routes of topically applied eye medications

Am J Ophthalmol. 1978 Mar;85(3):383-6. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9394(14)77735-9.


Tritium-labeled hydrocortisone acetate and pilcarpine hydrochloride solutions were topically applied to the eyes of rabbits. In one group of animals, the drugs were excluded from contact with the cornea by a cylindrical well glued to the eye surface. In another group, the drug solutions were allowed contact with the entire anterior surface of the eye. Total application time in all cases was five minutes, then the eyes were flushed with saline. Samples of aqueous humor, stroma, and iris-ciliary body were taken after five, 20, 35, 65, and 125 minutes and counted in a liquid scintillation counter. With hydrocortisone, up to 70 times more drug reached the stroma when the cornea was exposed; 40 times more reached the iris. Peak stromal levels occurred by 20 minutes, dropping to one third of peak value by two hours. With pilocarpine, about five times more drug reached the iris-ciliary body when corneal access was allowed; the level peaked in about five minutes. These results illustrate the important role of tear film distribution and blinking in delivering remotely applied drugs over the cornea with subsequent entry to interior sites.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / metabolism*
  • Aqueous Humor / metabolism*
  • Biological Transport
  • Ciliary Body / metabolism*
  • Cornea / metabolism*
  • Hormones / administration & dosage
  • Hormones / metabolism
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Iris / metabolism*
  • Ophthalmic Solutions / administration & dosage
  • Ophthalmic Solutions / metabolism*
  • Pilocarpine / administration & dosage
  • Pilocarpine / metabolism*
  • Rabbits


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Hormones
  • Ophthalmic Solutions
  • Pilocarpine
  • Hydrocortisone