Effect of inflammation on lacrimal gland function

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The lacrimal gland is the main contributor to the aqueous layer of the tear film. It secretes proteins, electrolytes and water, which helps to nourish and protect the ocular surface. Lacrimal gland secretion is primarily under neural control, which is achieved through a neural reflex arc. Stimuli to the ocular surface activate afferent sensory nerves in the cornea and conjunctiva. This in turn activates efferent parasympathetic and sympathetic nerves in the lacrimal gland to stimulate secretion. Sex steroid hormones are also important regulators of lacrimal gland functions. A decrease or lack of lacrimal gland secretion is the leading cause of aqueous tear deficient dry eye syndrome (DES). It has been suggested that DES is an inflammatory disorder that affects the ocular surface and the lacrimal gland. In several pathological instances, the lacrimal gland can become a target of the immune system and show signs of inflammation. This can result from autoimmune diseases (Sjögren's syndrome), organ transplantation (graft versus host disease), or simply as a result of aging. The hallmarks of lacrimal gland inflammation are the presence of focal lymphocytic infiltrates and increased production of proinflammatory cytokines. The mechanisms leading to lacrimal gland dysfunction are still poorly understood. Apoptosis, production of autoantibodies, hormonal imbalance, alterations in signaling molecules, neural dysfunction, and increased levels of proinflammatory cytokines have been proposed as possible mediators of lacrimal gland insufficiency in disease states.

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