Purpose. Excessive axial elongation of the eye is the principal structural cause of myopia. The increase in eye size results from active remodelling of the sclera, producing a weakened scleral matrix. The present study will detail the biomechanics of the sclera and highlight the matrix and cellular factors important in the control of eye size.
Methods. Scleral elasticity (load vs. tissue extension) and creep rate (tissue extension vs. time) have been measured postmortem in human eyes. Animal models of myopia have allowed the direct relevance of scleral biomechanics to be investigated during myopia development. Recently, data on tissue matrices incorporating scleral fibroblasts have highlighted the role of cellular contraction in scleral biomechanics.
Results. Scleral elasticity is increased in eyes developing myopia, with a reduction in the failure load of the tissue. Scleral creep rate is increased in the sclera from eyes developing myopia, and reduced in eyes recovering from myopia. These changes in biomechanical properties of the sclera occur early in the development of myopia (within 24 h). Alterations in scleral biomechanics during myopia development have been attributed to changes in matrix constituents, principally reduced collagen content. Although the biochemical structure of the sclera plays a critical role in defining the mechanical properties, recent studies investigating the cellular mechanics of the sclera, implicate myofibroblasts in scleral biomechanics. Scleral myofibroblasts have the capacity to contract the matrix and are regulated by tissue stress and growth factors such as transforming growth factor-ß. Changes in these regulatory factors have been observed during myopia development, implicating cellular factors in the resultant weakened sclera.
Conclusions. Changes in the biomechanical properties of the sclera are important in facilitating the increase in axial length that results in myopia. Understanding the matrix and cellular factors contributing to the weakened sclera may aid in the development of a clinically appropriate treatment for myopia.
*PhD, MCOptom, FAAO
Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Received September 28, 2008; accepted October 27, 2008.