Evaluation of a human corneal epithelial cell line as an in vitro model for assessing ocular irritation

Fundam Appl Toxicol. 1997 Apr;36(2):130-40.


A human corneal epithelial cell line, 10.014 pRSV-T (HCR-T cells), has been used to develop a three-dimensional in vitro model of the human corneal epithelium (HCE-T model). HCE-T cells form a stratified culture when grown at the air-liquid interface on a collagen membrane in serum-free medium. This model served as the basis for assays which supported the ocular irritancy assessment of water-soluble test substances. Cellular alterations in the HCE-T model were measured following 5-min topical exposures to 20 chemicals [listed in the European Center for Ecotoxicology and Toxicology of Chemicals (ECETOC) Reference Chemicals Data Bank] and 25 surfactant-based product formulations [utilized in the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA) Alternatives Program Phase III]. In vitro assays used were transepithelial permeability to sodium fluorescein (TEP) and transepithelial electrical resistance (TER). These measured alterations in the barrier function of this corneal epithelial equivalent. Barrier function is a well-developed property in the HCE-T model that supports the mechanistic relevance of these assays. In vitro data, averaged from replicate assays, were compared to respective Draize rabbit eye irritation data from the publicly available ECETOC and CTFA databases using linear regression with Pearson's correlation analysis. For chemicals, Pearson's correlation coefficients, r, from comparisons of Draize maximum average scores (MAS) to TEP and TER data were 0.71 and 0.55, respectively. For product formulations, Pearson's correlation coefficients from comparisons of Draize MAS to TEP and TER data were 0.86 and 0.80, respectively. Data indicated that barrier function alterations in the HCE-T model correlated with ocular irritancy and corneal toxicity. While the irritancy of the chemicals tested was effectively assessed only by the TEP assay, that for the surfactant-based product formulations was effectively assessed by both the TEP and TER assays. Results also suggested that the HCE-T TEP and TER assays vary in their effectiveness for evaluating specific classes of test materials.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cornea / cytology*
  • Cornea / drug effects*
  • Cornea / physiology
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Epithelial Cells
  • Epithelium / drug effects
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Eye Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Eye Diseases / pathology
  • Eye Diseases / physiopathology
  • Fluoresceins
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Humans
  • Irritants / toxicity*
  • Permeability
  • Rabbits
  • Surface-Active Agents / toxicity


  • Fluoresceins
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Irritants
  • Surface-Active Agents