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Traitement par Laser Pulsé - IPL

ipl laser pulsé oeil sec

Voici un des derniers articles expliquant les mécanismes d'action du traitement par IPL

La bibliographie sur la lumière pulsée et la sécheresse oculaire est disponible ici

Intense pulsed light for evaporative dry eye


Steven J Dell


There is a clear association between dry eye disease (DED) and skin inflammatory diseases

occurring in close proximity to the eyelids, such as facial skin rosacea. Intense pulsed light (IPL) is

widely accepted as a treatment for skin rosacea. A number of recent studies demonstrated that, in

patients suffering from meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), IPL therapy also reduces signs and

symptoms of DED. Despite these encouraging results, in the context of DED and MGD, the

mechanisms of action of IPL are not well understood. The purpose of this review was to raise the

potential mechanisms of action and to discuss their plausibility.

Keywords: intense pulsed light, dry eye disease, meibomian gland dysfunction, skin rosacea


Dry eye disease (DED) is “a multifactorial disease of the tears and ocular surface…” that afflicts

hundreds of millions around the world.1 In the US alone, 40 million people are estimated to suffer

from, or to be predisposed to, this debilitating condition.2 DED is mostly age related,1 but can also

be triggered by refractive3,4 or cataract surgery.5–7 In addition, preexisting DED significantly

increases the risk of prolonged or severe post-op signs and symptoms of dry eye.8,9 Refractive and

cataract surgery patients have high visual expectations, and increasingly sophisticated intraocular

lens and corneal ablation designs heighten the importance of good ocular surface health. Success of

refractive and cataract surgeries is therefore, in many cases, fundamentally dependent on effectively

addressing preexisting or iatrogenic DED. The most common form of DED is evaporative, which is

mainly due to meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD).10 Current standard of care of MGD includes

anti-inflammatory drugs, warm compresses, and meibomian gland expression.11–13

There is a clear association between MGD and skin inflammatory diseases occurring in close

proximity to the eyelids. A common example is facial skin rosacea. One in ten people are affected

by this skin condition, with >80% of these patients having concomitant MGD.14 In 20% of the

cases, ocular signs precede skin rosacea15 – possibly suggesting that skin rosacea could already

exist in a subclinical form.

Intense pulsed light (IPL) is widely accepted as a treatment for skin rosacea.16 More than a decade

ago, Toyos et al noticed that facial skin rosacea patients treated with IPL reported a significant

improvement in their dry eye symptoms.17 Since then, a number of studies confirmed that IPL

therapy reduces both signs and symptoms of dry eye.18–23 In these studies, IPL therapy comprised

several sessions given several weeks apart. Each session consisted of IPL pulses applied from tragus

to tragus, just below the lower eyelids and including the nose, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Treatment area in IPL therapy of MGD.

Despite these encouraging results, the mechanism of action is not well understood. The purpose of

this review is to raise the potential mechanisms of action and to discuss their plausibility.

Thrombosis of abnormal blood vessels

Facial skin rosacea is a chronic disorder presenting with vascular and inflammatory signs. The

overwhelming majority of patients afflicted with this condition also suffer from MGD.14 Although

the causal relationship is not entirely clear, it seems reasonable that MGD patients might benefit

from treatment of their concomitant skin condition. One of the primary features of rosacea is skin

erythema and telangiectasia. It has been proposed that these abnormal blood vessels release

inflammatory mediators.18 Via the facial artery and orbital vasculature, these molecules could

easily propagate to the eyelids, subsequently triggering the inflammation of meibomian glands and

leading to their dysfunction and atrophy.

The beneficial effect of IPL on erythema and telangiectasia has been extensively studied and

reported.16 Light energy absorbed by hemoglobin transforms to heat and causes the localized

destruction of superficial blood vessels (thrombosis). In the case of patients affected with MGD,

destruction of abnormal erythematous blood vessels reduces a key reservoir of inflammatory

mediators, thus removing a major source of inflammation from the eyelids and meibomian glands.

Heating and liquefying the meibum

Eyelid temperature significantly influences the physical properties of meibomian gland secretions,

also known as meibum.24 At higher temperatures, meibum becomes less viscous, which more

easily allows its normal distribution over the cornea. At room temperature, the temperature at the

eyelids is ~33°C.25 In patients with MGD, lipid composition may be altered, reflecting changes in

the configuration of hydrocarbon chain and lipid–lipid interaction strength. As a result, the phasetransition

temperature (the temperature at which the meibomian lipids switch from an ordered and

gel-like phase to a disordered and fluid-like phase) may increase, compared to healthy subjects.

In a study that analyzed the physical properties of meibum, the phase-transition temperature was

~28°C for meibum from healthy donors (below eyelid temperature), and just above 32°C for

meibum from donors afflicted with MGD (above eyelid temperature).26 Because the phasetransition

temperature of human meibum is near physiological body temperature, a small increase of

4°C is sufficient to change the meibum from gel like to fluid.

Indeed, warming the eyelids (with warm compresses or more sophisticated and automated devices)

has some therapeutic value, as it facilitates meibomian gland expression.27 Craig et al19 noted that

IPL application could induce an increase in skin temperature. However, these authors argued that

any increase is modest and short lived: immediately after IPL application, the skin temperature

increased by <1°C.19 However, it should be noted that in their study, skin temperature was

measured with infrared thermography a few seconds after treatment and only after removal of the

conducting gel. During these few seconds, the skin could cool down considerably and lose heat. It is

therefore difficult to infer from this measurement what the temperature of the eyelids would be

during IPL treatment itself.

However, whether or not IPL energy is sufficient to warm the skin is less important than its thermal

effect on blood vessels under the surface. The eyelids are extensively fed by capillaries and

arterioles branching off the facial artery. A mathematical model demonstrates that in medium and

large blood vessels (>150 μm), a single IPL pulse of 30 ms duration raises the temperature at the

center of the vessel to 80°C–90°C, above the temperature required to cause coagulation and

thrombosis as discussed above.28 In contrast, in small (60 μm) blood vessels, the temperature may

reach only 45°C–70°C, depending on fluence.28 This temperature elevation is insufficient to cause

the destruction of blood vessels, but it is probably enough to raise the temperature of eyelid skin

(and meibomian glands) by a few degrees, possibly above the phase-transition temperature. Even if

brief, this thermal response could be enough to unclog the meibomian glands and restore their

ability to excrete meibum during blinking.

Reducing the epithelial turnover and decreasing the risk for

gland obstruction

As often occurs in skin diseases, cutaneous rosacea is accompanied by a dramatic increase in

epithelial skin turnover. In a mechanism similar to dandruff production, large amounts of dead

epithelial skin cells detach from the epidermal surface and create debris. Since the ducts of

meibomian glands are paved with the same type of epithelial cells, accumulation of debris on the lid

margin is likely to occur. This, in combination with poor lid hygiene, could potentially clog the

orifices of meibomian glands.29 IPL treatment of rosacea could, thus, decrease the epithelial

turnover and reduce the risk factor for obstruction.


Photomodulation is a process by which light in the visible and infrared portions of the

electromagnetic spectrum induces intracellular changes at the gene and protein levels. The

biological basis of this process is not well understood. According to the Karu model, red (~630 nm)

photons are absorbed in cytochrome C oxidase (Cox), a key enzyme in the electron transport chain

embedded within the membrane of mitochondria. Photoexcitation of Cox prompts a photochemical

cascade, inducing changes in the redox properties of components along this mitochondrial

respiratory chain, leading to quickened electron transfer and, hence, to an increase in ATP

production.30,31 The cytoplasmic rise of ATP activates various intracellular/extracellular exchange

mechanisms (pumps and transporters), resulting in an increase in intracellular free calcium


Smith proposes a complementary model, by which the absorption of infrared photons (~810 nm)

induces molecular rotations and vibrations of various molecules.32 When such physical forces are

exerted on calcium channels, the permeability of these channels is altered such that the influx of

calcium ions increases. Here as well, the end result is an abrupt surge in intracellular calcium


This calcium signal activates cellular responses in a variety of ways. In the case of fibroblasts, cell

proliferation is enhanced and collagen synthesis is increased;33 skin-homing T cells are

recruited;34 local blood flow is increased; macrophages cells are activated;35 epidermal

keratinocytes increase the secretion of proinflammatory or anti-inflammatory cytokines and

chemokines, depending on the context.

Activating fibroblasts and enhancing collagen synthesis

The extracellular matrix comprises three types of fibers: collagen, reticular, and elastin.36 With age,

all the three types of fibers relax to some extent, thus compromising the natural rigidity and

elasticity of tissues. At the eyelid skin level, this process can lead to poor apposition of the lid

margins and incomplete blinks, resulting in reduced meibum pumping out of the meibomian glands.

This can lead in turn to increased tear evaporation.

Fibroblast cells are responsible for the production of collagen fibers in wound healing and tissue

repair. As mentioned earlier, photomodulation can prompt the proliferation of fibroblasts and

upregulate the synthesis of collagen fibers.33 An in vitro study showed that a pulsed 660 nm (LED)

light enhanced collagen production in a tissue-engineered reconstructed skin model.37 In another in

vitro study, irradiation of skin fibroblasts with IPL (800–1,200 nm) increased the proliferation rate

of fibroblasts and increased the expression of collagen genes.38 These results are also supported by

clinical studies.39

Eradicating Demodex

One of the potential mediators of blepharitis and MGD are Demodex folliculum mites, a type of

ectoparasite that normally burrows deep into sebaceous and meibomian glands to feed on their

sebum/meibum secretions.40 In healthy skin, the degree of infestation with Demodex mites is

controlled. Demodex mites are normally colonized with Bacillus olerinus.41,42 Rosacea patients

present with increased Demodex population on the face, high serum reactivity to B. olerinus

proteins, and reduced levels of sebum.43

The causal relationship between rosacea and Demodex is not clear. Some researchers argue that

rosacea is fundamentally an infectious disease resulting from Demodex thriving on skin damaged by

a combination of age, adverse weathering, and changes in sebum composition.44 Others claim that

erythema and superficial telangiectasia (which are characteristics of rosacea) induce edema of the

dermis, which in turn increases skin colonization of Demodex.45

A direct consequence of Demodex proliferation is the dramatic increase in bacterial load on the

eyelids,46 particularly B. olerinus. The excessive presence of B. olerinus near the eyelids triggers a

cascade of events that may degenerate into chronic inflammation of the ocular surface. First, the

immune system responds by orchestrating an army of proinflammatory agents, including

antimicrobial peptides, toll-like receptors, cytokines, chemokines, and matrix metal-loproteinases

(MMPs).47,48 In small quantities, these agents may perform well. But an acute inflammatory

response may turn into a chronic, self-perpetuating condition. Second, B. olerinus releases toxic

substances, including lipases which enzymatically alter lipid composition. A change in the ratio of

saturated to unsaturated fats of the meibum could raise its melting point, increase its viscosity, and

impede its secretion. In addition, one by-product of lipase activity on sebum/meibum is oleic acid,

which could play a role in the keratinization of the lid margin, and plugging of the meibomian gland

orifices.13 All of these events could aggravate and perpetuate inflammation inside the meibomian


The pigmented exoskeleton of Demodex contains chromophore that absorbs IPL energy. Histologic

analysis demonstrated that IPL treatment induces coagulation and necrosis of Demodex.49,50 By

eradication of Demodex, IPL could decrease the microbial load on eyelids and potentially break the

vicious cycle of inflammation.

Modulating the secretion of pro- and anti-inflammatory


Inflammation has a pivotal role in the development and propagation of evaporative DED in early as

well as advanced phases of the disease.51 Factors that adversely affect tear film stability and

osmolarity can induce ocular damage and initiate an inflammatory cascade that generates a

powerful immunological response which, in turn, may cause further damage at the ocular surface,

creating a self-perpetuating inflammatory cycle. Clinical studies consistently report elevated levels

of inflammatory molecules in the tears and ocular surface of patients with DED.52 The levels of

these cytokines/chemokines are often correlated with pain, tear instability, tear production, and/or

ocular surface integrity.51

IPL has the potential to interfere with this inflammatory cycle, by upregulation of anti-inflammatory

cytokines, or downregulation of proinflammatory cytokines, or both. A few examples are


1. In cultured keratinocytes, IPL treatment led to a fivefold increase in the levels of interleukin-

10 (IL-10), an anti-inflammatory protein that inhibits cytokine production in T cells.53 In

fibroblasts, IPL has a bidirectional effect on the secretion of transforming growth factor-β1

(TGF-β1): inhibition at low fluences, but enhancement at high fluences.54 TFG-β is an

interesting example, because it has both pro- and anti-inflammatory effects, depending on

the context and the cellular environment. As an anti-inflammatory agent, TGF-β modulates

the proliferation of T cells after encountering ocular surface epithelium, prevents their

migration to the conjunctiva,55 and suppresses natural killer (NK) cells.

2. A third example is the proinflammatory cytokine IL-6, which is downregulated subsequent

to LED phototherapy.56

3. Yet another example is the effect of IPL on the skin of acne patients: IPL significantly

reduces inflammatory lesions, presumably by downregulation of tumor necrosis factor-α

(TNF-α) (one of the cytokines which make up the acute phase of inflammation).57

The inflammatory cascade in dry eye is extremely complex and incompletely understood. However,

it is plausible that at least part of the beneficial effect of IPL on DED patients occurs by interfering

with the positive feedback loop underlying the inflammatory cycle of this pathology.

Suppressing MMPs

Another type of proteins involved in the pathogenesis of dry eye are MMPs. These enzymes

participate in extracellular matrix remodeling and are both directly and indirectly affected by IPL.

For example, in skin fibroblasts, IPL treatment decreases the concentration of MMPs, by

downregulation at the mRNA level.58 In corneal epithelia cells, TNF-α and IL-1 upregulate several

types of MMPs.59 Recall that TNF-α is downregulated by IPL.57 Therefore, IPL indirectly

diminishes the levels of these MMPs. It is interesting to note that corticosteroids relieve dry eye

symptoms by similar pathways: they interfere with the inflammatory cycle by lowering the cellular

levels of cytokines, chemokines, and MMPs.60–62

Reactive oxidative species (ROS)

In rosacea, inflammation is associated with the generation of ROS released by neutrophils and other

inflammatory cells.63 ROS are highly reactive molecules containing oxygen, also widely referred to

as free radicals. Examples of ROS include superoxide anions (O2

–) and hydroxyl radicals (OH–).

Abnormally high levels of ROS may result in oxidative stress, as was identified in the tear film of

dry eye patients.64

There are conflicting reports regarding the effect of visible light irradiation on the levels of ROS.

For example, absorption of visible light in mitochondrial and cell membrane cytochromes generate

ROS and thus could induce oxidative stress.65 One report shows that application of light results in

reduced levels of ROS.66 Several researchers have proposed that the effect of light on ROS levels

follows a biphasic dose response, also known as the Arndt–Schultz curve.67,68

Separately, either one of these contradictory effects could have a beneficial effect on dry eye

patients. Following low-level light irradiation, an increase in ROS is described by the ascending

part of the Arndt–Schultz curve. In this situation, light irradiation would result in excessive

production of ROS and antimicrobial activity, thus reducing the bacterial load on eyelids. At higher

doses, the descending part of the Arndt–Schultz curve could describe the antioxidant roles of light

irradiation. In this part of the dose–response curve, light irradiation would result in the attenuation

of ROS levels, thus diminishing oxidative stress and inflammation.


Dry eye is a multifactorial disease. Potential mechanisms whereby IPL could achieve clinical

improvement include thrombosis of abnormal blood vessels below the skin surrounding the eyes,

heating the meibomian glands and liquefying the meibum, activation of fibroblasts and enhancing

the synthesis of new collagen fibers, eradication of Demodex and decreasing the bacterial load on

the eyelids, interference with the inflammatory cycle by regulation of anti-inflammatory agents and

MMPs, reducing the turnover of skin epithelial cells and decreasing the risk of physical obstruction

of the meibomian glands, and changes in the levels of ROS (Figure 2). While any one of these

mechanisms of action has the potential to explain the effect of IPL on DED, it is also possible that

multiple mechanisms of action are at play. As IPL becomes more commonly used in the treatment

of DED, the specific contribution of each of these modes of action will be further elucidated.

Lumière pulsée, sécheresse oculaire, blépharite
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