5-Fluorouracil toxicity to the ocular surface epithelium

M. S. Shapiro, R. A. Thoft, J. Friend, R. K. Parrish, M. G. Gressel

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67 Scopus citations


The antimetabolite, 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), has been used to control proliferation of retinal pigment epithelial cells and fibrocytes, and is currently the subject of a multicenter clinical trial of its value in the control of scarring after glaucoma operations. To evaluate possible ocular surface toxicity, the effect of 5-FU on the mitotic rate and differentiation of the ocular surface epithelium in rabbits was measured. 5-FU was instilled into eyes with 10-mm diameter central epithelial wounds and into nonwounded eyes at a dose of 9 mg per day for 4 days. Saline treated control wounded eyes healed within 4 days (n = 5) while 40% (4 of 10) of the 5-FU treated wounded eyes had defects at 4 days. The normal mitotic rate of the corneal epithelium was 1.0 ± 0.3 (n = 4) tritiated thymidine labeled cells per 100 basal corneal epithelial cells after 2.5 hr incubation. Saline treated control wounded eyes had an increased mitotic rate, 7.1 ± 1.3 (n = 5) labeled cells per 100 basal corneal epithelial cells after 2.5 hr incubation. Topical 5-FU decreased both of those rates to about 1% of normal. The normal conjunctival epithelial mitotic rate was 1.8 ± 0.4 (n = 4) labeled cells per 60 basal cells after per 2.5 hr incubation. This rate was the same in wounded eyes, but was decreased in eyes treated with 5-FU. Thus, 5-FU (9 mg/day topically) has serious toxic effects to ocular epithelium which must be carefully considered if this drug is to be used clinically.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)580-583
Number of pages4
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1985
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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