Instability of the tear film (TF) protecting the ocular surface results in dry eye syndrome (DES), the most prevalent public health ophthalmic disease affecting the quality of life of 10 to 30% of the human population worldwide. Although the impact of the tear film lipid layer (TFLL) and of the aqueous tears (AT) to the TF stability is extensively studied, in contrast the contribution of the secretory mucins (SM) and of the membrane-associated mucins (MAM), i.e., one of the most abundant molecular classes in AT and in the corneal epithelium respectively, remains poorly defined. However, it is well known that in DES both types of mucins are quantitatively or qualitatively deficient. Numerous studies since the 1990s until now have proposed direct involvement of SM and MAM in the material properties (viscoelasticity, hydration, and protection of the ocular surface; synergistic cooperation with the rest of the TF layers; etc.) and stability of TF. These theories will be reviewed here in the context of the classical and modern in vitro and in vivo results that allow their reappraisal and in view of the novel mucin secretion enhancing pharmaceuticals, which have opened innovative routes for the therapy of DES.
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