Effect of brimonidine, an α2 adrenergic agonist, on human meibomian gland epithelial cells

Date Published:

2018 May


We recently discovered that the anti-glaucoma pharmaceuticals timolol, a β adrenergic antagonist, and pilocarpine, a cholinergic compound, negatively influence the morphology, proliferative capacity and survival of human meibomian gland epithelial cells (HMGECs). We hypothesize that another class of anti-glaucoma drugs, the α2 adrenergic agonists, also acts directly on HMGECs to affect their structure and function. We tested this hypothesis. Immortalized (i) HMGECs were cultured with brimonidine, as well as clonidine (α2 agonist), phenylephrine (α1 agonist), RX821002 (inverse α2 agonist) and MK912 (neutral α2 agonist) for up to 7 days. Cells were counted with a hemocytometer, and evaluated for morphology, signaling pathway activity, protein biomarker expression, and the accumulation of neutral lipids, phospholipids and lysosomes. Our findings demonstrate that brimondine treatment induces a dose-dependent decrease in Akt signaling and proliferation of iHMGECs. In contrast, brimonidine also promotes a dose-dependent differentiation of iHMGECs, including an increase in neutral lipid, phospholipid and lysosome levels. These effects were paralleled by an inhibition of p38 signaling, and duplicated by cellular exposure to clonidine, but not phenylephrine. Brimonidine also enhanced the cellular content of sterol regulatory binding protein-1, a master regulator of lipid synthesis. Of particular interest, the putative α2 antagonists, RX821002 and MK912, did not interfere with brimonidine action, but rather stimulated IHMGEC differentiation. Our results support our hypothesis and demonstrate that α2 adrenergic agonists act directly on iHMGECs. However, these compounds do not elicit an overall negative effect. Rather, the α2 agonists promote the differentiation of iHMGECs.

Last updated on 06/28/2018