Newswise — Houston, TX – A research team at Baylor College of Medicine conducted a study demonstrating the efficacy of a commercially available probiotic bacterial strain in alleviating dry eye disease. Their findings were recently unveiled at ASM Microbe 2023, the annual gathering of the American Society for Microbiology.

Dry eye is a prevalent condition affecting about 1 in 20 individuals in the United States. It occurs when the eyes do not receive sufficient lubrication from the tears they produce. This can lead to discomfort, including stinging, burning, inflammation, blurry vision, and sensitivity to light. If left untreated, severe cases of dry eye can even cause damage to the surface of the eyes. The conventional approaches for managing dry eye typically involve using eye drops, gels, or ointments. However, a novel and unconventional treatment method involves targeting the bacteria residing in the intestinal tract.

During the presentation at ASM Microbe 2023, Laura Schaefer, Ph.D., from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, emphasized the connection between the beneficial bacteria residing in the gastrointestinal tract and overall health, including disease prevention in various body systems such as the gut, brain, and lungs. Dr. Schaefer further highlighted that considering the widespread influence of the gut microbiome, it is not unexpected to observe its effects extending to the eyes as well.

In previous research conducted by this group, it was observed that mice who received gut bacteria from individuals with severe dry eye due to Sjögren syndrome displayed exacerbated eye disease symptoms when exposed to dry conditions. Conversely, mice that received gut bacteria from healthy individuals exhibited a lesser degree of eye disease, indicating a protective role of healthy gut bacteria in dry conditions. Considering this finding, one potential approach for treating dry eye involves the use of probiotic bacteria that possess similar protective properties. To explore this possibility, the researchers administered an oral probiotic bacterial strain called Limosilactobacillus reuteri DSM17938 to mice with a dry eye condition. DSM17938 is a commercially available probiotic strain derived from humans, which has previously demonstrated protective effects on the gut and immune system in both humans and mice. However, its potential effects on eye health have not yet been investigated.

To induce a depletion of the beneficial gut bacteria, the mice were initially treated with antibiotics. Subsequently, they were subjected to extremely dry conditions and provided daily doses of either probiotic bacteria or a saline solution as a control. Following a 5-day period, the researchers examined the mice's eyes for signs of disease. Remarkably, the mice that received the probiotic bacteria exhibited healthier and more intact corneal surfaces compared to the control group. Furthermore, these mice displayed an increased presence of goblet cells in their eye tissue. Goblet cells are specialized cells responsible for producing mucin, a vital component of tears. Considering these findings collectively, it strongly suggests that appropriate oral probiotics could serve as an effective treatment and management option for alleviating dry eye symptoms.

The authors in this study are Laura Schaefer, Robert Britton, Steven Pflugfelder and Cintia de Paiva. The research was performed in the laboratory of Dr. Cintia de Paiva in the Department of Ophthalmology at Baylor College of Medicine and supported with funds from the National Institutes of Health and the Research to Prevent Blindness Foundation.


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ASM Microbe 2023