The meibomian glands (or tarsal glands) are a special kind of sebaceous gland at the rim of the eyelids inside the tarsal plate, responsible for the supply of meibum, an oily substance that prevents evaporation of the eye'stear film. Meibum prevents tear spillage onto the cheek, trapping tears between the oiled edge and the eyeball, and makes the closed lids airtight. There are approximately 50 glands on the upper eyelids and 25 glands on the lower eyelids. The glands are named after Heinrich Meibom (1638–1700), a German physician.
Lipids are the major components of meibum (also known as "meibomian gland secretions"). The term "meibum" was originally introduced by Nicolaides et al. in 1981. The biochemical composition of meibum is extremely complex and very different from that of sebum. Lipids are universally recognized as major components of human and animal meibum. Recently, an update on the composition of human meibum and on the structures of various positively identified meibomian lipids was published. Currently, the most sensitive and informative approach to lipidomic analysis of meibum is mass spectrometry in combination with liquid chromatography.
Dysfunctional meibomian glands often cause dry eyes, one of the more common eye conditions. They may also contribute to blepharitis. Inflammation of the meibomian glands (also known as meibomitis, meibomian gland dysfunction, or posterior blepharitis) causes the glands to be obstructed by thick waxy secretions. Besides leading to dry eyes, the obstructions can be degraded by bacterial lipases, resulting in the formation of free fatty acids, which irritate the eyes and sometimes cause punctate keratopathy.
^Nicolaides N, Kaitaranta JK, Rawdah TN, Macy JI, Boswell FM 3rd, Smith RE. "Meibomian gland studies: comparison of steer and human lipids." Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 1981 Apr;20(4):522-536. PMID 7194326.
^Butovich IA. "Lipidomic analysis of human meibum using HPLC-MSn." Methods Mol Biol. 2009;579:221-246. PMID 19763478.
^Tsai PS, Evans JE, Green KM, Sullivan RM, Schaumberg DA, Richards SM, Dana MR, Sullivan DA. "Proteomic analysis of human meibomian gland secretions." Br J Ophthalmol. 2006 March;90(3):372-7. doi:10.1136/bjo.2005.080846PMID 16488965.