Lipocalins are a family of diverse low molecular weight proteins that act extracellularly. They use multiple recognition properties that include 1) ligand binding to small hydrophobic molecules, 2) macromolecular complexation with other soluble macromolecules, and 3) binding to specific cell surface receptors to deliver cargo. Tear lipocalin (TLC) is a major protein in tears and has a large ligand-binding cavity that allows the lipocalin to bind an extensive and diverse set of lipophilic molecules. TLC can also bind to macromolecules, including the tear proteins lactoferin and lysozyme. The receptor to which TLC binds is termed tear lipocalin-interacting membrane receptor (LIMR). LIMR appears to work by endocytosis. TLC has a variety of suggested functions in tears, including regulation of tear viscosity, binding and release of lipids, endonuclease inactivation of viral DNA, binding of microbial siderophores (iron chelators used to deliver essential iron to bacteria), serving as a biomarker for dry eye, and possessing anti-inflammatory activity. Additional research is warranted to determine the actual functions of TLC in tears and the presence of its receptor on the ocular surface.
Ocul Surf. 2011 Jul;9(3):126-38.
From the Schepens Eye Research Institute and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.