Dry eye disease (DED) is often elicited by graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), an extensive complication of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). To unravel the mechanism of this type of DED, in vivo confocal microscopy (IVCM) was used to investigate alterations in the state of the sub-basal nerves, dendritic cells (DCs) and globular immune cells (GICs) in the central cornea and limbal epithelia. In this study, we examined 12 HSCT recipients with GVHD-caused DED and 10 HSCT recipients without GVHD-associated DED and evaluated the clinical parameters in the 2 groups. Analysis of the central cornea and limbal epithelia using IVCM was conducted to investigate the density of the corneal sub-basal nerves, DCs and GICs as well as the tortuosity and branching of the sub-basal nerves. As suggested by our data, the clinical variables in the GVHD group were significantly different from those in the non-GVHD group. Additionally, GVHD-triggered DED conceivably increased the density of DCs and GICs in the central cornea and the density of DCs in limbal epithelia and altered the morphology of the sub-basal nerves. These phenomena are presumably correlated with the degree of inflammation. Thus, our findings may be translated into non-invasive diagnostic methods that indicate the severity of inflammation on the ocular surface in HSCT recipients.
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