Importance: Lubricin may be an important barrier to the development of corneal and conjunctival epitheliopathies that may occur in dry eye disease and contact lens wear. Objective: To test the hypotheses that lubricin (ie, proteoglycan 4 [PRG4]), a boundary lubricant, is produced by ocular surface epithelia and acts to protect the cornea and conjunctiva against significant shear forces generated during an eyelid blink and that lubricin deficiency increases shear stress on the ocular surface and promotes corneal damage. Design, Setting, and Participants: Human, porcine, and mouse tissues and cells were processed for molecular biological, immunohistochemical, and tribological studies, and wild-type and PRG4 knockout mice were evaluated for corneal damage. Results: Our findings demonstrate that lubricin is transcribed and translated by corneal and conjunctival epithelial cells. Lubricin messenger RNA is also present in lacrimal and meibomian glands, as well as in a number of other tissues. Absence of lubricin in PRG4 knockout mice is associated with a significant increase in corneal fluorescein staining. Our studies also show that lubricin functions as an effective friction-lowering boundary lubricant at the human cornea-eyelid interface. This effect is specific and cannot be duplicated by the use of hyaluronate or bovine serum albumin solutions. Conclusions and Relevance: Our results show that lubricin is transcribed, translated, and expressed by ocular surface epithelia. Moreover, our findings demonstrate that lubricin presence significantly reduces friction between the cornea and conjunctiva and that lubricin deficiency may play a role in promoting corneal damage.
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