Background: The pathophysiology of chronic ocular allergic disease is not well understood. An eosinophil infiltrate is characteristic of such disease and eosinophil activity can be related to disease severity and to keratopathy, the most serious complication. Recently, eosinophils have been shown capable of cytokine production, particularly in allergic disease, although the disease-specific cytokine spectrum of tissue eosinophils is unknown.
Objectives: We sought to determine eosinophil numbers (absolute numbers and percentage of total leukocytes), cell surface antigen expression, and cytokine production in conjunctiva in chronic allergic eye disease and their relationship to corneal involvement.
Methods: Ultrathin sections of conjunctiva were examined by tissue staining and by 1- and 2-color immunohistochemistry.
Results: Eosinophil numbers were greater in giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC) and vernal keratoconjunctivitis (VKC) and not related to corneal involvement. The eosinophil expression of the cell surface antigens intercellular adhesion molecule-1, CD4, IL-2R, and HLA-DR was greater in atopic keratoconjunctivitis (AKC) and VKC, the disorders with corneal disease, than in GPC, in which the cornea is not involved. For most cytokines, localization to eosinophils was greater for VKC and AKC than for GPC. RANTES, TGF-beta, and TNF-alpha localized to eosinophils in all disorders. Variations in the pattern of eosinophil-cytokine localization were found. In VKC IL-3, IL-5, IL-6, and GM-CSF were prominent; in GPC IL-5 was prominent; and in AKC IL-4, IL-8, and GM-CSF were prominent.
Conclusions: Chronic ocular allergic disorders affecting the cornea are distinguished from disorders that do not do so by greater expression of eosinophil surface antigens (which may imply greater cell activation) and differences in cytokine localization to eosinophils. These differences may be secondary to the variations in T-cell subsets or a primary phenomenon. Changes in eosinophil function, rather than cell numbers, may be important in clinical variations, such as keratopathy, and may allow future therapeutic exploitation.