Purpose. To describe the most recent advances in our understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in the immunopathogenesis of corneal immunoinflammatory disorders including microbial keratitis, peripheral ulcerative keratitis, and allograft rejection.
Methods. Review of the published peer-reviewed literature that has contributed significantly to our modern understanding of corneal immunology. In addition, the authors have summarized the information in conceptual diagrams that highlight the critical cellular and molecular pathways that lead to corneal immune responses in the two most thoroughly studied corneal immune disorders, herpes simplex keratitis (HSK) and transplant rejection.
Results. In spite of the wide array of molecular and cellular factors that mediate corneal immunity, critical mechanistic facets are shared by the various corneal immunoinflammatory disorders. These include activation and migration of local antigen-presenting cells (APCs), including Langerhans cells (LCs), upregulation in pleiotropic proinflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tumor necrosis factor-alfa (TNF-α) that can mediate a wide array of immune functions in addition to upregulating protease expression, and chemokines that play a critical role on the one hand in attracting nonantigen-specific inflammatory cells such as neutrophils and on the other in attracting CD4+ T helper type 1 (Th1) cells that mediate most of the destruction in the cornea.
Conclusions. In the last 25 years, we have seen our field develop from a descriptive stage into a new phase where the fundamental processes that mediate and effect corneal immunity are being accurately deciphered. It is anticipated that this new knowledge will allow development of specific molecular and genetic therapeutic strategies that could target critical steps in the immunopathogenesis of disease without the untoward side-effects of nonspecific generalized immune suppression that still remains the standard of care today.