PURPOSE: To develop a mechanical model in which a contact lens is swept over ocular surface cells under conditions that mimic the force and speed of the blink, and to investigate the resulting biological changes.
METHODS: A computer controlled mechanical instrument was developed to hold a dish containing 3D cultured stratified human ocular surface epithelial cells, across which an arm bearing a contact lens was swept back and forth repeatedly at a speed and force mimicking the human blink. Cells were subjected to repeated sweep cycles for up to 1 h at a speed of 120 mm/s with or without an applied force of 19.6 mN (to mimic pressure exerted by upper eyelid), after which the cell layer thickness was measured, the cell layer integrity was investigated using fluorescent quantum dots (6 and 13 nm) and the phosphorylation levels of various protein kinases were analyzed by human phospho-kinase arrays. Data for selected kinases were further quantitated by enzyme immunoassays.
RESULTS: The thickness of the cell layers did not change after exposure to sweep cycles with or without applied force. Quantum dots (6 and 13 nm) were able to penetrate the layers of cells exposed to sweep cycles but not layers of untreated control cells. The phosphorylation levels of HSP27 and JNK1/2/3 increased for cells exposed to sweep cycles with applied force compared to untreated control cells.
CONCLUSIONS: The in vitro mechanical instrument is a useful tool to investigate the effects of blinking on the ocular surface.