Inflammatory mediators have been shown to modulate dry eye (DE) disease and may correlate with disease severity, yet the methods used and the associated findings vary significantly in the literature. The goal of this research was to compare two methods, the quantitative microarray and the magnetic bead assay, for detecting cytokine levels in extracted tear samples across three subject groups.
Tears were collected from Schirmer strips of the right and left eyes of 20 soft contact lens wearers (CL), 20 normal non-contact lens wearers (NOR), and 20 DE subjects and stored at −80 °C. Tear proteins were eluted and precipitated using ammonium bicarbonate and acetone. The right and left eye samples were combined for each subject. Following the Bradford protein quantitation method, 10 µg of total protein was used for each of the two analyses, Quantibody® Human Inflammation Array 3 (RayBiotech) and High Sensitivity Human Cytokine Magnetic Bead Kit (Millipore). The assays were run using the GenePix® 4000B Scanner (Molecular Devices) or the Luminex MagPix® plate reader (Luminex), respectively. The data were then compared between the two instruments and the three subject groups
Of the 40 proteins on the Quantibody® microarray, seven had average expression levels above the lower limit of detection: ICAM-1, MCP-1, MIG, MCSF, TIMP-1, TIMP-2, and TNF-RI. Significant differences in expression levels (p<0.05) were detected between the CL and DE groups for MCSF, TIMP-1, and TNF R1, between the NOR and DE groups for ICAM-1, and between the CL and NOR groups for ICAM-1, MCP-1, MCSF, TIMP-1, TIMP-2, and TNF-R1 when using the Student t test. Of the 13 proteins tested with Luminex, IL-1β, IL-4, IL-6, IL-7, and IL-8 had expression levels above the minimum detectable level, and these were most often detected using the Luminex assay compared to the Quantibody® microarray. Contrarily, IL-2, IL-12, IL-13, INF-g, and GM-CSF were detected more frequently using the Quantibody® microarray than the Luminex assay. Significant differences in expression levels (p<0.05) were only detected between the CL and DE groups for IL-7 and IL-8 and between the CL and NOR subjects for IL-8.
In addition to detecting more significant differences between the subject groups, the Quantibody® microarray detected more inflammatory cytokines in total within the range of detection than the Luminex assay. Differences were also noted in the types of cytokines each assay could detect from the limited protein samples. Both methods offer advantages and disadvantages; therefore, these factors should be considered when determining the appropriate assay for analyzing tear protein samples.