To assess how trypan blue staining affects Descemet membrane endothelial keratoplasty (DMEK) graft visibility and corneal endothelial cell (CEC) mitochondrial respiration.
DMEK grafts (n = 20) were stained with trypan blue 0.06% for 1, 3, 5, or 10 minutes. Each graft was injected into an artificial anterior chamber. Surgery was simulated with tapping and sweeping motions on the corneal surface and injections of balanced salt solution (BSS). Graft visibility was assessed at 5, 10, 20, and 30 minutes. Effects of trypan blue on mitochondrial respiration were assessed using primary CECs cultured from donor corneas (n = 43). Treatment wells exposed to trypan blue 0.06% (1, 5, or 30 minutes) and donor-matched control wells to methylene blue 1% (1 minute) or BSS (1, 5, or 30 minutes) were assayed for key respiration parameters.
After 5 minutes of surgical manipulation, grafts stained for 5 minutes were significantly more visible than grafts stained for 1 or 3 minutes; there was no added benefit of staining for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes of surgical manipulation, grafts stained for 3 minutes were more visible than grafts stained for 1 minute, without additional benefits of staining ≥5 minutes. No visibility differences were observed after ≥20 minutes of surgical manipulation. CEC mitochondrial respiration did not change significantly following trypan blue exposure for all intervals tested compared to BSS.
Staining DMEK grafts with trypan blue for 3 to 5 minutes optimizes visibility during surgical manipulation without mitochondrial impairment. Corneal surgeons learning DMEK will benefit from optimizing this critical step.