Graefe’s Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology
2023 November

Epithelium-on versus epithelium-off corneal collagen crosslinking for keratoconus: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Grace A Borchert, Himal Kandel, Stephanie L Watson


Purpose: Corneal collagen crosslinking (CXL) is the primary treatment for progressive keratoconus which has a significant impact on vision and quality of life. Our study aimed to compare the efficacy and safety of epithelium-on versus epithelium-off CXL to treat keratoconus.

Methods: We searched PubMed, Medline, Embase, Web of Science, and Scopus databases. We included studies that compared standard epithelium-off with epithelium-on CXL. The primary outcome measures were changes in corrected distance visual acuity (CDVA) and maximum keratometry (Kmax), and the secondary outcomes were uncorrected distance visual acuity (UDVA), central corneal thickness (CCT), and adverse events. A meta-analysis was performed on the primary and secondary outcomes based on the weighted mean differences between baseline to 12-month follow-up.

Results: The search retrieved 887 publications with 27 included in the systematic review. A total of 1622 eyes (1399 patients; age 25.51 ± 4.02 years) were included in comparisons of epithelium-off to epithelium-on CXL in keratoconus. Epithelium-off CXL treated 800 eyes and epithelium-on CXL for 822 eyes. At 12-month follow-up, CDVA and Kmax showed no significant difference between the epithelium-off and epithelium-on CXL. The secondary outcomes showed that UDVA was better in epithelium-off CXL (- 0.11D, 95% CI – 0.12, – 0.1; p < 0.001) and there was more thinning in CCT in epithelium-off CXL (- 3.23 μm, 95% CI – 4.64, – 1.81; p <0.001). Conclusion: Epithelium-off and epithelium-on CXL were both effective to treat progressive keratoconus. Further research is needed to compare the long-term outcomes and safety of both CXL protocols for adaptation into clinical practice. Keywords: Crosslinking; Epithelium; Keratoconus; Transepithelial.