Dry eye is a complicated ocular surface disease whose exact pathogenesis is not yet fully understood. For the therapeutic evaluation and pathogenesis study of dry eye, we established an in vitro three-dimensional (3D) coculture model for the ocular surface. It is composed of rabbit conjunctival epithelium and lacrimal gland cell spheroids, and recapitulates the aqueous and mucin layers of the tear film. We first investigated the culture conditions for both cell types to optimize their secretory functions, by employing goblet cell enrichment, air-lifting culture, and 3D spheroid formation techniques. The coculture of the two cell components leads to elevated secretion and higher expression of tear secretory markers. We also compared several coculture systems, and found that direct cell contact between the two cell types significantly increased tear secretion. Inflammation was induced to mimic dry eye disease in the coculture model system. Our results showed that the coculture system provides a more physiologically relevant therapeutic response compared to monocultures. Our work provides a complex 3D model as a recapitulation of the ocular surface and tear film system, which can be further developed as a model for dry eye disease and therapeutic evaluation.
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