Inflammatory molecules have been demonstrated in the tear film of patients with severe dry eye disease (DED). However, little attention has been paid to the most frequent moderate forms of DED. This study analyzes tear cytokine levels and their clinical correlations in patients with moderate evaporative-type DED due to meibomian gland disease (MGD).
Twenty three evaporative-type DED patients (46 eyes) of mild-to-moderate intensity and nine healthy subjects (18 eyes) were recruited. Two symptom questionnaires were self-answered and multiple DED-related clinical tests were performed. Unstimulated tears from each eye were isolated and were not pooled. Levels of 15 cytokines and chemokines were measured by multiplex bead analysis, compared with control levels, and correlated with clinical tests.
Fourteen out of the 15 molecules were reliably detected in 1 μl of unstimulated tears from DED patients. Epidermal growth factor (EGF), fractalkine/CX3CL1, interleukin (IL) 1-receptor antagonist (Ra), IL-8/CXCL8, interferon inducible protein (IP)-10/CXCL10, and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) were found in 94%–100% of samples; IL-6 in 65% (significantly more detected in older patients); IL-1β, interferon gamma (IFN-γ), and IL-10 in 30%–48%; IL-17 in 13%; granulocyte macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF), IL-13, and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) in 2%–9%; and IL-5 was never detected. EGF, fractalkine/CX3CL1, IL-1Ra, IP-10/CXCL10, and VEGF levels were significantly increased compared to normal controls. Pain was correlated with IL-6 and IL-8/CXCL8. Tear break-up time correlated inversely with IL1-Ra. Schirmer test and tear lysozyme levels negatively correlated with IL-1Ra, IL-8/CXCL8, fracktalkine/CX3CL1, IL-6, IP-10/CXCL10, and VEGF had the same tendency. Conjunctival staining correlated negatively with EGF and positively with IL-6.
In this sample of moderate evaporative-type DED patients, five inflammatory molecules were elevated. Fracktalkine was demonstrated to be present and elevated in tears in human DED. IL-1Ra, IL-6, IL-8/CXCL8, and EGF levels correlated with pain and with clinical parameters measuring tear stability, tear production or ocular surface integrity. These results suggest that inflammation plays a role not only in severe DED but also in moderate evaporative DED.