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Joy Sarkar, Shweta Chaudhary, Abed Namavari, Okan Ozturk, Jin-Hong Chang, Lisette Yco, Snehal Sonawane, Vishakha Khanolkar, Joelle Hallak, Sandeep Jain; Corneal Neurotoxicity Due to Topical Benzalkonium Chloride. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2012;53(4):1792-1802. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/iovs.11-8775.
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The aim of this study was to determine and characterize the effect of topical application of benzalkonium chloride (BAK) on corneal nerves in vivo and in vitro.
Thy1-YFP+ neurofluorescent mouse eyes were treated topically with vehicle or BAK (0.01% or 0.1%). Wide-field stereofluorescence microscopy was performed to sequentially image the treated corneas in vivo every week for 4 weeks, and changes in stromal nerve fiber density (NFD) and aqueous tear production were determined. Whole-mount immunofluorescence staining of corneas was performed with antibodies to axonopathy marker SMI-32. Western immunoblot analyses were performed on trigeminal ganglion and corneal lysates to determine abundance of proteins associated with neurotoxicity and regeneration. Compartmental culture of trigeminal ganglion neurons was performed in Campenot devices to determine whether BAK affects neurite outgrowth.
BAK-treated corneas exhibited significantly reduced NFD and aqueous tear production, and increased inflammatory cell infiltration and fluorescein staining at 1 week (P < 0.05). These changes were most significant after 0.1% BAK treatment. The extent of inflammatory cell infiltration in the cornea showed a significant negative correlation with NFD. Sequential in vivo imaging of corneas showed two forms of BAK-induced neurotoxicity: reversible neurotoxicity characterized by axonopathy and recovery, and irreversible neurotoxicity characterized by nerve degeneration and regeneration. Increased abundance of beta III tubulin in corneal lysates confirmed regeneration. A dose-related significant reduction in neurites occurred after BAK addition to compartmental cultures of dissociated trigeminal ganglion cells. Although both BAK doses (0.0001% and 0.001%) reduced nerve fiber length, the reduction was significantly more with the higher dose (P < 0.001).
Topical application of BAK to the eye causes corneal neurotoxicity, inflammation, and reduced aqueous tear production.
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