To describe a new method of visualizing human conjunctiva goblet cell mucin secretion by using a combination of impression cytology and laser scanning microscopy.
By assembling a Z-stack of confocal microscopy images taken from human impression cytology samples, we obtained 3-dimensional information about the release and spread of goblet cell secretions above the conjunctival surface. After reconstruction and rendering of these images, analysis of the shape and spreading characteristics of the mucins permitted definition of the following parameters related to goblet cell secretion: mucin cloud height as the height of the top of the cloudlike mucin structure visible above the goblet cell opening and spread mucin thickness, which is the thickness of the mucin layer distributed over the surface of the conjunctiva.
Several impression cytology samples of control and muco-deficient patients have been analyzed through the confocal laser scanning technique, and significant differences between these groups were found. Mucin cloud height and spread mucin thickness values for controls were 8.81 ± 4.00 and 2.77 ± 1.00 μm, respectively (n = 25). These values decreased by ∼70% and 40%, respectively, for moderately mucodeficient subjects and by 84% and 48% for those with severe mucodeficiency. Classifying those individuals having mucin-related pathology may thus be possible on the basis of application of these techniques.
In summary, we present a method of objectively identifying those individuals with problems associated with either a lack of mucins or a reduction in the distribution of these proteins over the ocular surface.