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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2008 Sep;49(9):3779-89. doi: 10.1167/iovs.08-1889. Epub 2008 May 16.

On the lipid composition of human meibum and tears: comparative analysis of nonpolar lipids.

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Department of Ophthalmology and Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas, USA.



To qualitatively compare the nonpolar lipids present in meibomian gland (MG) secretions (samples T1) with aqueous tears (AT) collected from the lower tear menisci of healthy, non-dry eye volunteers using either glass microcapillaries (samples T2) or Schirmer test strips (samples T3).


Samples T1 to T3 were analyzed with the use of high-pressure liquid chromatography/positive ion mode atmospheric pressure chemical ionization mass spectrometry. Where possible, the unknown lipids were compared with known standards.


Samples T1 had the simplest lipid composition among all the tested specimens. Samples T2 and T3 were similar to each other but were noticeably different from samples T1. In addition to all the compounds detected in samples T1, lower molecular weight wax esters and other compounds were found in samples T2 and T3. No appreciable amounts of fatty acid amides (e.g., oleamide), ceramides, or monoacyl glycerols were routinely detected. The occasionally observed minor signals of oleamide (m/z 282) in samples T3 were attributed to the contamination of the samples with common plasticizers routinely found in plastic ware extractives and organic solvents.


The MG is a prominent source of lipids for the tear film. However, it would have been a mistake to exclude from consideration other likely sources of lipids such as conjunctiva, cornea, and tears produced by the lacrimal glands. These data showed that lipids in AT are more complex than MG secretions, which necessitates more cautious interpretation of the functions of the latter in the tear film.

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