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To investigate toxicity associated with buffers commonly used in topical ocular drug formulations using a human corneal–limbal epithelial (HCLE) and a human conjunctival epithelial (HCjE) cell model.HCLE and HCjE cells were incubated for 10, 30, or 60 minutes with 4 different buffers based on borate, citrate, phosphate, and Tris-HCl at 10, 50, and 100 mM concentrations. To detect possible delayed effects on cell viability, after 60 minutes of buffer incubation, cells were further incubated for 24 hours with a cell medium. Cell viability was determined using a colorimetric XTT–based assay. The morphology of cells was also investigated.HCjE cells showed more sensitivity to buffer incubation than HCLE cells. The 100 mM phosphate buffer displayed significant delayed effects on cell viability of HCLE 16.8 ± 4.8% and HCjE 39.2 ± 6.1% cells after 60 minutes of exposure (P < 0.05). HCjE cell viability was reduced after 60 minutes incubations with 50 and 100 mM citrate buffer to 42.8 ± 6.5% and 39.3 ± 7.9%, respectively, and even lower percentages at the delayed time point (both P < 0.05). HCLE cell morphology was distinctly altered by 100 mM phosphate and Tris buffers after 30 minutes, whereas HCjE cells already showed marked changes after 10 minutes of exposure to 100 mM citrate and phosphate buffers.We observed a time-dependent decrease of viability in both HCLE and HCjE cells exposed to higher buffer concentrations. Therefore, we propose further in vivo studies to translate these finding to humans to discern the real effects of the buffer concentration in eye drops on the ocular surface.