Objective: To determine whether an association between keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) and meibomian gland lipids exists in patients with chronic blepharitis. Methods: Meibomian gland lipids were collected from normal patients and those with chronic blepharitis. Some of the chronic blepharitis patients had an ocular surface abnormality with apparent aqueous deficiency similar to KCS. Lipids were separated by thin- layer chromatography and polar lipids were further separated by high-pressure liquid chromatography with detection by UV absorbance. Lipids were identified by retention time with comparison with standards and by gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy. Results: A strong association between specific lipids and KCS signs was observed only with the polar lipids. Low levels of 2 phospholipids, identified as phosphatidylethanolamine and sphingomyelin, were significantly (P<.05) associated with ocular surface abnormalities that were consistent with KCS. Conclusions: Evaporative KCS syndrome (rather than tear insufficiency) in many individuals may be the result of polar lipid abnormalities. We believe that the 2 associated phospholipids identified in the patients with chronic blepharitis act as important structural components in the polar phase of the tear film lipid layer. We suggest that a deficiency in these lipids results in a poorly structured polar phase that in turn affects the nonpolar phase. Ultimately water transmission through the tear film lipid layer increases, thus resulting in evaporative KCS. These results should aid in development of tear film substitutes directed toward specific abnormalities.
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