The role of eye-associated lymphoid tissue in corneal immune protection

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Because the cornea is optimized for refraction, it relies on supporting tissues for moistening and nutrition and in particular for immune protection. Its main support tissue is the conjunctiva, in addition to the lacrimal gland, the latter which provides soluble mediators via the tear film. The cornea and conjunctiva constitute a moist mucosal surface and there is increasing evidence that apart from innate defence mechanisms, also lymphoid cells contribute to the normal homeostasis of the corneal surface. A Medline-based literature search was performed in order to review the existing literature on the existence, composition and functions of mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) at the ocular surface for corneal protection. The existence of lymphoid cells at the ocular surface and appendage has been known for many years, but for a long time they were believed erroneously to be inflammatory cells. More recent research has shown that in addition to the known presence of lymphoid cells in the lacrimal gland, they also form MALT in the conjunctiva as conjunctiva-associated lymphoid tissue (CALT) and in the lacrimal drainage system as lacrimal drainage-associated lymphoid tissue (LDALT). Together this constitutes an eye-associated lymphoid tissue (EALT), which is a new component of the mucosal immune system of the body. When the topographical distribution of CALT is projected onto the ocular surface, it overlies the cornea during eye closure and is hence in a suitable position to assist the corneal immune protection during blinking and overnight. It can detect corneal antigens and prime respective effector cells, or distribute protective factors as secretory IgA.

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