Lipidomics of human Meibomian gland secretions: Chemistry, biophysics, and physiological role of Meibomian lipids

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Human Meibomian gland secretions (MGS) are a complex mixture of diverse lipids that are produced by Meibomian glands that are located in the upper and the lower eyelids. During blinking, MGS are excreted onto the ocular surface, spread and mix with aqueous tears that are produced by lachrymal glands, and form an outermost part of an ocular structure called "the tear film" (TF). The main physiological role of TF is to protect delicate ocular structures (such as cornea and conjunctiva) from desiccating. Lipids that are produced by Meibomian glands are believed to "seal" the aqueous portion of TF by creating a hydrophobic barrier and, thus, retard evaporation of water from the ocular surface, which enhances the protective properties of TF. As lipids of MGS are interacting with underlying aqueous sublayer of TF, the chemical composition of MGS is critical for maintaining the overall stability of TF. There is a consensus that a small, but important part of Meibomian lipids, namely polar, or amphiphilic lipids, is of especial importance as it forms an intermediate layer between the aqueous layer of TF and its upper (and much thicker) lipid layer formed mostly of very nonpolar lipids, such as wax esters and cholesteryl esters. The purpose of this review is to summarize the current knowledge on the lipidomics of human MGS, including the discussions of the most effective modern analytical techniques, chemical composition of MGS, biophysical properties of Meibomian lipid films, and their relevance for the physiology of TF. Previously published results obtained in numerous laboratories, as well as novel data generated in the author's laboratory, are discussed. It is concluded that despite a substantial progress in the area of Meibomian glands lipidomics, there are large areas of uncertainty that need to be addressed in future experiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)278-301
Number of pages24
JournalProgress in Lipid Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2011


  • Bioanalytical chemistry
  • Human meibum
  • Lipids
  • Moss spectrometry
  • Tear film
  • Tear film layer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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