Histopathological effects of topical ophthalmic preservatives on rat corneoconjunctival surface

Curr Eye Res. 1998 Apr;17(4):419-25. doi: 10.1080/02713689808951223.


Purpose: Long term use of topical drugs has clearly been shown to induce toxic immunopathological changes in the ocular surface. However, little is known concerning the respective roles of active compounds and preservatives. Benzalkonium chloride (BAC) is the most used preservative and its cytotoxicity is well known, but other preservatives have not yet been clearly evaluated. We thus performed a comparative study to investigate toxic side effects induced in the rat ocular surface by applications of various preservatives, with special attention to inflammatory infiltrates.

Methods: A total of 35 brown Norway rats were divided into seven groups of five each. They received, for one month, in both eyes, either 0.01% cetrimonium chloride, 0.01% benzalkonium chloride, 0.01% benzododecinium bromide, 0.004% thiomersal, 0.05% methyl parahydroxybenzoate or phosphate-buffered saline (PBS), the last group remaining untreated. Then, animals were sacrificed and eyes were processed for histological and immunological procedures with monoclonal antibodies to rat immunocompetent cells.

Results: When compared to controls, all preservative-treated eyes consistently showed corneal and conjunctival damage, including epithelial alterations, various degrees of keratinization and inflammatory infiltrates at the limbus and within the conjunctival stroma and epithelium. No difference was found between the five tested drugs.

Conclusions: This study confirms that most preservatives used in ophthalmic eyedrops may similarly induce strong histopathological and inflammatory changes in the ocular surface after short term use. Although obtained in animal model, these results confirm strong toxic side effects in patients with preexisting ocular surface disorders and/or receiving topical drugs for long periods.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conjunctiva / drug effects*
  • Conjunctiva / immunology
  • Conjunctiva / pathology
  • Cornea / drug effects*
  • Cornea / immunology
  • Cornea / pathology
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique, Indirect
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II / biosynthesis
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Male
  • Ophthalmic Solutions / toxicity*
  • Rats
  • Tissue Preservation*


  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II
  • Ophthalmic Solutions