A randomized clinical trial of topical cysteamine disulfide (cystamine) versus free thiol (cysteamine) in the treatment of corneal cystine crystals in cystinosis

Mol Genet Metab. 1998 Aug;64(4):237-42. doi: 10.1006/mgme.1998.2725.


In nephropathic cystinosis, corneal cystine crystals cause severe photophobia and corneal erosions. Topical cysteamine dissolves these crystals, but cannot be marketed because it rapidly oxidizes to the disulfide form, cystamine, at room temperature. Since cystamine itself could be used commercially, we compared the efficacy of cystamine and cysteamine with respect to cystine crystal dissolution in a randomized, double-masked clinical trial. One eye each of 14 patients with cystinosis was randomized to either cystamine or cysteamine, 0.5%, with 0.01% benzalkonium chloride; the companion eye was treated with the alternate preparation. Corneal crystals were photographed and a density score was assigned to each slide based on 13 standard slides. After 8-20 months, 6 patients showed significant reduction of the corneal crystal score in only one eye. In each case, the improved eye was the cysteamine-treated eye. Theoretically, cysteamine should dissolve both intracellular and extracellular crystals, whereas cystamine should dissolve only intracellular crystals because it must first be reduced to the free thiol by the cytoplasmic-reducing environment. Hence, the lack of efficacy of the disulfide cystamine suggests that some corneal cystine crystals in cystinosis patients are extracellular, and that another form of stable, topical cysteamine must be developed for cystinosis patients.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cornea / metabolism*
  • Corneal Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Corneal Diseases / etiology
  • Cystamine / administration & dosage
  • Cystamine / therapeutic use*
  • Cystine / metabolism*
  • Cystinosis / complications
  • Cystinosis / drug therapy*
  • Cystinosis / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / administration & dosage
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / therapeutic use*
  • Visual Acuity


  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Cystine
  • Cystamine