Send to

Choose Destination
Exp Eye Res. 2017 Oct;163:17-28. doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2017.03.013.

Structure-function relationship of tear film lipid layer: A contemporary perspective.

Author information

St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia, Department of Optics and Spectroscopy, Faculty of Physics, 5 James Bourchier Blvd., 1164 Sofia, Bulgaria. Electronic address:
Department of Cytology, Histology and Embryology, Faculty of Biology, St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia, Sofia, Bulgaria.
Department of Ophthalmology, Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, Kyoto, Japan.


Tear film lipid layer (TFLL) stabilizes the air/tear surface of the human eye. Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) resulting in quantitative and qualitative modifications of TFLL major (>93%) component, the oily secretion of meibomian lipids (MGS), is the world leading cause of dry eye syndrome (DES) with up to 86% of all DES patients showing signs of MGD. Caused by intrinsic factors (aging, ocular and general diseases) and by extrinsic everyday influences like contact lens wear and extended periods in front of a computer screen, DES (resulting in TF instability, visual disturbances and chronic ocular discomfort) is the major ophthalmic public health disease of the present time affecting the quality of life of 10-30% of the human population worldwide. Therefore there is a pressing need to summarize the present knowledge, contradictions and open questions to be resolved in the field of TFLL composition/structure/functions relationship. The following major aspects are covered by the review: (i) Do we have a reliable mimic for TFLL: MGS vs contact lens lipid extracts (CLLE) vs lipid extracts from whole tears. Does TFLL truly consist of lipids only or it is important to keep in mind the TF proteins as well?; (ii) Structural properties of TFLL and of its mimics in health and disease in vitro and in vivo. How the TFLL uniformity and thickness ensures the functionality of the lipid layer (barrier to evaporation, surface properties, TF stability etc.); (iii) What are the main functions of the TFLL? In this aspect an effort is done to emphasize that there is no single main function of TFLL but instead it simultaneously fulfills plethora of functions: suppresses the evaporation (alone or probably in cooperation with other TF constituents) of the aqueous tears; stabilizes (due to its surface properties) the air/tear surface at eye opening and during the interblink interval; and even acts as a first line of defense against bacterial invasion due to its detergency action on the bacterial membranes. An effort is done to highlight how the concept on the importance of TFLL and TF viscoelasticity transpires from old and new studies and what are its clinical implications. An attempt is made to outline the future hot directions of research into the field ranging from quest for molecules that can significantly alter TFLL properties to addressing open questions on the contribution of TFLL to the overall performance of the TF.


Dry eye; Evaporation; Structure-function relationship; Surface properties and viscoelasticity; Tear film lipid layer; Tear film stability

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center