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Ocular Surface Potential Difference Measured in Human Subjects to Study Ocular Surface Ion Transport.



The epithelium lining the ocular surface, which includes corneal and conjunctival epithelia, expresses the prosecretory chloride channel cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) and the proabsorptive epithelial sodium channel (ENaC). Here, methodology was established to measure the millivolt (mV) potential differences at the ocular surface, called ocular surface potential difference (OSPD), in human subjects produced by ion transport.


OSPD was measured in human subjects in which a fluid-filled measuring electrode contacted a fluid pool created by eversion of the lateral lower eyelid, with a reference electrode placed subcutaneously in the forearm. Through the use of a high-impedance voltmeter, OSPD was measured continuously over 10 to 15 minutes in response to a series of perfusate fluid exchanges.


Baseline OSPD (± SEM) in six normal human subjects was -21.3 ± 3.6 mV. OSPD depolarized by 1.7 ± 0.6 mV following the addition of the ENaC inhibitor amiloride, hyperpolarized by 6.8 ± 1.5 mV with a zero chloride solution, and further hyperpolarized by 15.9 ± 1.6 mV following CFTR activation by isoproterenol. The isoproterenol-induced hyperpolarization was absent in two cystic fibrosis subjects lacking functional CFTR. OSPD measurement produced minimal epithelial injury.


Our results establish the feasibility and safety of OSPD measurement in humans and demonstrate robust CFTR activity, albeit minimal ENaC activity, at the ocular surface. OSPD measurement may be broadly applicable to investigate fluid transport mechanisms and test drug candidates to treat ocular surface disorders.

Translational relevance

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first measurement of the electrical potential generated by the ocular surface epithelium in human subjects, offering a new approach to study ocular surface function and health.

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