Neuropathic corneal pain: Tear proteomic and neuromediator profiles, imaging features, and clinical manifestations

Am J Ophthalmol. 2024 Mar 21:S0002-9394(24)00117-X. doi: 10.1016/j.ajo.2024.03.015. Online ahead of print.


PURPOSE: To investigate the tear proteomic and neuromediator profiles, in vivo confocal microscopy (IVCM) imaging features, and clinical manifestations in neuropathic corneal pain (NCP) patients.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional study.

METHODS: Twenty NCP patients and twenty age-matched controls were recruited. All subjects were evaluated by corneal sensitivity, Schirmer’s test, tear break-up time, corneal and ocular surface staining, Ocular Surface Disease Index and Ocular Pain Assessment Survey questionnaires, as well as IVCM examinations for corneal nerves, microneruomas, epithelial and dendritic cells. Tears were collected for neuromediator and proteomic analysis using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and data-independent acquisition mass spectrometry.

RESULTS: Burning and sensitivity to light were the two most common symptoms in NCP. A total of 188 significantly dysregulated proteins, such as elevated metallothionein-2, creatine kinases B-type, vesicle-associated membrane protein 2, neurofilament light polypeptide, and myelin basic protein, were identified in the NCP patients. The top 10 dysregulated biological pathways in NCP include neurotoxicity, axonal signaling, wound healing, neutrophil degradation, apoptosis, thrombin signaling mitochondrial dysfunction, RHOGDI and P70S6K signaling pathways. Compared to controls, the NCP cohort presented with significantly decreased corneal sensitivity (P<0.001), decreased corneal nerve fiber length (P=0.003), corneal nerve fiber density (P=0.006), nerve fiber fractal dimension (P=0.033), as well as increased in corneal nerve fiber width (P=0.002), increased length, total area and perimeter of microneuromas (P<0.001, P<0.001, P=0.019), smaller corneal epithelial size (P=0.017), and higher nerve growth factor level in tears (p=0.006).

CONCLUSIONS: These clinical manifestations, imaging features, and molecular characterizations would contribute to the diagnostics and potential therapeutic targets for NCP.

PMID:38521157 | DOI:10.1016/j.ajo.2024.03.015