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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2011 Aug 3;52(9):6174-80. doi: 10.1167/iovs.10-7022.

Effect of tear hyperosmolarity and signs of clinical ocular surface pathology upon conjunctival goblet cell function in the human ocular surface.

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  • 1Centre for Molecular Biosciences, University of Ulster, Coleraine, Northern Ireland.



To investigate the effect of tear hyperosmolarity and signs of clinical ocular surface pathology on conjunctival goblet cell population.


111 participants were assessed using tear osmolarity (TO) measurements and a comprehensive selection of clinical ophthalmic tests. The resultant clinical database was assessed for evidence of patterns of composite increasing pathology. The total, filled, and empty goblet cell numbers were measured: total number of goblet cells as per cytokeratin 7 (CK7) immunofluorescence and number of filled goblet cells as per periodic acid Schiff's reagent (PAS) or lectin helix pomatia agglutinin (HPA). Goblet cell profile was correlated with composite clinical pathologic grades.


No significant correlation was found between TO and goblet cell number or function (as indicated by number of filled or unfilled goblet cells). Distinct composite clinical pathologic groups 0-IV with increasing pathology were created based on the frequency of positive pathologic signs, which adhered to the Dry Eye Workshop purported mechanism. Only in group IV was there significantly increased mean tear osmolarity of 344 mOsm/L (P < 0.000) along with significantly decreased empty goblet cell number (CK7+ and HPA-) compared to filled (CK7+ and HPA+, P = 0.000). When the number of filled goblet cells (PAS+) was analyzed there was significant increase in tear osmolarity for the two most severe grades; 3 and 4.


The goblet cell population does not appear to be affected by isolated tear hyperosmolarity. Hyperosmolarity when combined with other ocular surface pathology or inflammation alters the goblet cell population.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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