To evaluate corneal immune dendritiform cell (DC) changes in dry eye disease (DED) using in vivo confocal microscopy (IVCM) and to correlate IVCM parameters with clinical severity.
This was a retrospective, cross-sectional study including 300 eyes of 150 DED patients and 49 eyes of 49 age-matched controls. Severity of DED was based on the Dry Eye Workshop (DEWS) classification. IVCM images of subbasal layer of the central cornea were analyzed for DC density and morphology (including number of dendrites per DC, DC size and DC field).
DC density was significantly higher in DED compared to controls (93.4 ± 6.3 vs. 25.9 ± 3.9 cells/mm ; P < 0.001). Morphologically, number of dendrites, DC size and field were significantly larger in DED (3.3 ± 0.1, 106.9 ± 4.7 μm , 403.8 ± 20.1 μm  than controls (2.3 ± 0.1, 62.5 ± 5.7 μm , 241.4 ± 24.4 μm , P < 0.001). Significantly higher DC density compared to controls was observed as early as Level 1 DED severity (87 ± 10 cells/mm , p < 0.001. Significant morphological changes in DC were detected for Levels 2 to 4 (p=<0.001, and p = 0 < 0.05) for dendrites and DC field, respectively. Similarly, DC size showed significant increase at DED level 3-4. (p < 0.05). Linear regression analysis showed that both conjunctival and corneal staining were independently associated with DC density, while corneal staining was independently associated with DC morphology.
DC density and morphology correlated with clinical severity of DED. While, DC density is increased in mild DED, morphological changes are seen only in severe cases. IVCM may be a powerful tool to detect early immune changes and may complement clinical examination in DED.
Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier Inc.