Benzalkonium chloride (BAC) is the most common preservative in ophthalmic preparations. Here, we investigated the corneal alternations in rabbits following exposure to BAC. Twenty-four adult male New Zealand albino rabbits were randomly divided into three groups. BAC at 0.01%, 0.05%, or 0.1% was applied twice daily to one eye each of rabbits for 4 days. The contralateral untreated eyes were used as control. Aqueous tear production and fluorescein staining scores of BAC-treated eyes were compared with those of controls. The structure of the central cornea was examined by in vivo confocal microscopy. Expression of mucin-5 subtype AC (MUC5AC) in conjunctiva was detected by immunostainig on cryosections. Corneal barrier function was assessed in terms of permeability to carboxy fluorescein (CF). The distribution and expression of ZO-1, a known marker of tight junction, and reorganization of the perijunctional actomyosin ring (PAMR) were examined by immunofluorescence analysis. Although there were no significant differences between control and BAC-treated eyes in Schirmer scores, corneal fluorescein scores and the number of conjunctival MUC5AC staining cells, in vivo confocal microscopy revealed significant epithelial and stromal defects in all BAC-treated corneas. Moreover, BAC at 0.1% resulted in significant increases in central corneal thickness and endothelial CF permeability, compared with those in control eyes, and endothelial cell damage with dislocation of ZO-1 and disruption of PAMR. Topical application of BAC can quickly impair the whole cornea without occurrence of dry eye. A high concentration of BAC breaks down the barrier integrity of corneal endothelium, concomitant with the disruption of PAMR and remodeling of apical junctional complex in vivo.
Preservatives are a major component of the ophthalmic preparations in multi-dose bottles. The purpose of this study was to investigate the acute effect of benzalkonium chloride (BAC), a common preservative used in ophthalmic preparations, on the localization and expression of zonula occludens (ZO)-1 in the rabbit corneal epithelium in vivo. BAC at 0.005%, 0.01%, or 0.02% was topically applied to one eye each of albino rabbits at 5 min intervals for a total of 3 times. The contralateral untreated eyes served as controls. The following clinical indications were evaluated: Schirmer test, tear break-up time (BUT), fluorescein and rose Bengal staining. The structure of central cornea was examined by in vivo confocal microscopy, and the corneal barrier function was evaluated by measurement of corneal transepithelial electrical resistance and permeability to carboxy fluorescein. Whole mount corneas were analyzed by using fluorescence confocal microscopy for the presence of ZO-1, 2, occludin, claudin-1, Ki67 and cell apoptosis in the epithelium. The expression of ZO-1 in the corneal epithelium was also examined by western blot and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction analyses. Exposure to BAC resulted in higher rose Bengal staining scores while no significant changes in BUT, Schirmer and corneal florescein scores. It also induced corneal epithelial cell damage, dispersion of ZO-1 and ZO-2 from their normal locus at the superficial layer and disruption of epithelial barrier function. However, the amounts of ZO-1 mRNA and protein in the corneal epithelium were not affected by BAC treatment. Exposure to BAC can quickly impair the corneal epithelium without tear deficiency. BAC disrupts the tight junctions of corneal epithelium between superficial cells in the rabbit corneal epithelium in vivo.
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