PURPOSE: To study the expression of the extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins, tenascin, laminin, and fibronectin in the conjunctiva of patients with active vernal keratoconjunctivitis (VKC). METHODS: Conjunctival biopsy specimens were obtained from nine patients with active VKC and 6 normal control subjects. The presence and distribution of tenascin, laminin, and fibronectin were assessed microscopically with immunohistochemical techniques and a panel of monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies directed against tenascin, laminin, and fibronectin. RESULTS: In normal conjunctiva, weak immunoreactivity for tenascin was localized to the walls of blood vessels in the upper substantia propria. Weak immunoreactivity for laminin was located at the epithelial-stromal junction and in the walls of blood vessels. Staining for fibronectin was absent. In VKC specimens, intense immunoreactivity for tenascin was noted in the substantia propria associated with the inflammatory infiltrate and in the perivascular stroma. Intense immunoreactivity for laminin around all stromal vessels and fibrillar immunoreactivity among basal epithelial cells were noted. There was no immunoreactivity for fibronectin. CONCLUSION: Our data indicate increased deposition of tenascin and laminin in the conjunctiva from patients with active VKC. Our findings suggest that tenascin and laminin might play distinct roles in chronic inflammation seen in VKC.