Effects of topical mucolytic agents on the tears and ocular surface: a plausible animal model of mucin-deficient dry eye

Xiangzhe Li, Boram Kang, In Ho Woo, Youngsub Eom, Hyung Keun Lee, Hyo Myung Kim, Jong-Suk Song

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4 Citations (Scopus)


PURPOSE. A topical mucolytic agent, N-acetylcysteine (NAC), has been used to create an animal model without the intestinal mucus layer. In this study, we investigated the effects of topical NAC on the tears and ocular surface. METHODS. NAC-treated models were established by topically administering 10% NAC four times daily for 5 days in male Sprague-Dawley rats. Clinical parameters and the expression of mucin proteins and genes were evaluated. Alterations in the conjunctival epithelium and goblet cells were observed. RESULTS. The NAC group showed significant decreases in tear secretion, corneal wetting ability, tear MUC5AC concentration, and conjunctival goblet cell numbers as compared with the control group (all P <0.01). In addition, significant increases in corneal fluorescein score and rose bengal scores were observed in the NAC group versus in the control group (P <0.05 and P <0.01, respectively). Hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) staining and scanning electron microscopy clearly showed damage in the epithelial cell layer and microvilli of the NAC group. Although there was no significant difference in MUC16 gene expression, the MUC16 concentration of the tear film and ocular surface tissue was significantly increased in the NAC group versus in the control group (P <0.01 and P <0.05, respectively). Five-day treatment with 3% diquafosol had minimal therapeutic effect in NAC-treated rat eyes. CONCLUSIONS. Topical administration of 10% NAC induced ocular surface damage and tear film instability by prompting MUC16 disruption and release from the ocular surface. This animal model could be used to study dry eye disease, especially the mucin-deficiency subtype.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3104-3114
Number of pages11
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jun 1



  • Dry eye
  • Goblet cell
  • MUC1
  • MUC16
  • MUC5AC
  • N-acetylcysteine
  • Ocular surface damage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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