Pro- and anti-inflammatory forms of interleukin-1 in the tear fluid and conjunctiva of patients with dry-eye disease

A Solomon, D Dursun, Z Liu, Y Xie, A Macri, S C Pflugfelder
Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science 2001, 42 (10): 2283-92

PURPOSE: To compare the expression of the pro- and anti-inflammatory forms of interleukin (IL)-1 in the tear fluid and conjunctival epithelium of normal eyes and those with dry-eye disease.

METHODS: The concentrations of IL-1 alpha, IL-1 beta (precursor and mature forms), and IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra) were measured by ELISA in tear fluid samples obtained from normal individuals and patients with dry eye who had rosacea-associated meibomian gland disease (MGD) or Sjögren's syndrome (SS) aqueous tear deficiency (ATD). These cytokines were also measured in normal tear fluid before and after nasal stimulation to induce reflex tearing. The relative expression of these cytokines was evaluated in conjunctival impression cytology specimens and conjunctival biopsy tissue obtained from normal subjects and SS ATD-affected patients using immunofluorescent staining. Matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-9 concentration and activity in the tear fluid were evaluated with gelatin zymography and with an MMP-9 activity assay kit, respectively.

RESULTS: Compared with normal subjects, the concentration of IL-1 alpha and mature IL-1 beta in the tear fluid was increased, and the concentration of precursor IL-1 beta was decreased in patients with MGD (P < 0.05, P = 0.02, and P < 0.01, respectively) and SS ATD (P < 0.001, P = 0.02, and P < 0.001, respectively). There was no significant change in the concentration of IL-1 alpha, precursor IL-1 beta, and IL-1Ra in reflex tear fluid, indicating that the lacrimal glands may secrete these cytokines. The activity of MMP-9, a physiological activator of IL-1 beta, was significantly elevated in the tear fluid of both dry-eye groups compared with normal subjects. A strong positive correlation was observed between the intensity of corneal fluorescein staining and the tear fluid IL-1 alpha concentration (r(2) = 0.17, P < 0.02) and the mature-to-precursor IL-1 beta ratio (r(2) = 0.46, P < 0.001). Positive immunofluorescent staining for IL-1 alpha, mature IL-1 beta, and IL-1Ra was observed in a significantly greater percentage of conjunctival cytology specimens from eyes with SS ATD than in those from normal eyes (P < 0.01 for IL-1 alpha, P < 0.009 for mature IL-1 beta, and P < 0.05 for IL-1Ra).

CONCLUSIONS: Dry-eye disease is accompanied by an increase in the proinflammatory forms of IL-1 (IL-1 alpha and mature IL-1 beta) and a decrease in the biologically inactive precursor IL-1 beta in tear fluid. Increased protease activity on the ocular surface may be one mechanism by which precursor IL-1 beta is cleaved to the mature, biologically active form. The conjunctival epithelium appears to be one source of the increased concentration of IL-1 in the tear fluid of patients with dry-eye disease. These results suggest that IL-1 may play a key role in the pathogenesis of keratoconjunctivitis sicca.

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