Purpose: The present study was concerned with the development of a new experimental model of dry eye using human reconstructed in vitro corneal epithelium (HCE). The model is based on the use of adapted culture conditions that induce relevant modifications at the cellular and molecular level thus mimicking dry eye. Methods: The HCE model was maintained in a controlled environmental setting (relative humidity <40 % and 40 °C temperature) for 24 h and up to 72 h to induce dry eye. The evolution of the dry eye condition was assessed by histology, immunohistochemistry staining, scanning electron microscopy, and gene expression by using TaqMan gene assay technology (mucin-4 [MUC4], matrix metallopeptidase-9 [MMP9], tumor necrosis factor-α [TNF-α], and defensin β-2 [DEFB2). The effects of different commercially available tear substitutes on the induced dry eye condition were tested. Results: This in vitro dry eye HCE model, that was well established within 24 h, has the characteristic features of a dry eye epithelium and could be satisfactorily used for preliminary assessment of the protective activity of some artificial tears. The transcriptional study of selected biomarkers showed an increase in MUC4, MMP9, TNF-α, and hBD-2 (DEFB2) gene expression. Conclusions: By using a dynamic approach, we were able to define a biomarker gene signature of dry eye-induced effects that could be predictive of corneal damage in vivo and to discriminate the efficacy among different commercial artificial tears
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