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Biol Aujourdhui. 2018;212(1-2):1-11. doi: 10.1051/jbio/2018017. Epub 2018 Oct 26.

[Understanding chronic ocular pain].

[Article in French]

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Sorbonne Université, INSERM, CNRS, Institut de la Vision, Paris, France.
Sorbonne Université, INSERM, CNRS, Institut de la Vision, Paris, France - Département d'Ophtalmologie III, Hôpital National des Quinze-Vingts, Paris, France - Département d'Ophtalmologie, Hôpital Ambroise Paré, APHP, Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin en Yvelines, Versailles, France.


Dry eye disease (DED) is a common chronic condition with multifactorial etiologies that is increasing in prevalence worldwide, up to 20% in the elderly. The economic burden and impact of DED on vision, quality of life, work productivity, psychological and physical impact of pain, are considerable. Chronic ocular pain is the most common symptom of DED and there is currently no topical ocular analgesic therapy available to treat this debilitating disease. Eye pain can be perceived as itch, irritation, dryness, grittiness, burning, aching, and light sensitivity. Ocular pain is triggered by corneal nociceptors (cornea being the most sensory innervated tissue of the body). It was clearly established that repeated direct damage to ocular surface and per se corneal nerves can cause peripheral and central sensitization mechanisms explaining the ocular pain in some patients with DED. However, the brain regions and the neuronal pathways associated with ocular pain are still unclear. Thus, a better characterization of chronic ocular pain and an understanding of the peripheral and central molecular and cellular mechanisms involved are crucial issues for developing effective management and therapeutic strategy to alleviate ocular pain. In this review, we first describe the nociceptive corneal nerve pathways and the classification and the neurochemistry of primary afferents innervating the cornea. Then, an update of the fundamental and clinical studies related to the inflammatory processes linked to ocular pain is detailed. The last part of the review presents the diagnostic tools used in clinic for evaluating corneal sensitivity and corneal inflammation.


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