They are the first to discover the natural killer (NK) cells, a type of cell that provides innate immunity to the eyes, as promoting the inflammation that plays a critical role in the development of dry eye disease.
The finding offers hope for new drugs that treat the cellular cause of the disease rather than its symptoms.
"Our study has promoted the further understanding of the pathogenesis of dry eye disease, which is fundamental to develop new treatments and thus improve quality of life for those with this disease," said Yihe Chen, a researcher involved in the work from the Schepens Eye Research Institute at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary of the Department of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
To make their discovery, the scientists tested two groups of mice. The first group was normal and the second group was depleted of NK cells.
When both sets of mice were induced with dry eye disease under the same conditions, the disease was less severe in the mice depleted of NK cells than the normal mice.
This suggests that NK cells play a pivotal role in the development and severity of the disease, making them a target for the development of new drugs.
The finding appears in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.