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Morphology of Corneal Nerves Using Confocal Microscopy

Oliveira-Soto, Laura M.Sc.; Efron, Nathan Ph.D., D.Sc.

Clinical Sciences

Purpose. The aim of the current study was to evaluate the distribution and morphology of corneal nerves as seen by means of white light confocal microscopy.

Methods. This study analyzed images of corneal nerves that were obtained using the Tomey Confoscan slit scanning confocal microscope (40×/0.75 objective lens). The images were classified according to their location within the cornea. The objective and subjective evaluation of the images involved measuring, grading, or judging a number of parameters from both individual pictures and from each single nerve fiber within any image.

Results. The in vivo observations made in this work are in agreement with those of previous histologic studies. The general scheme of corneal innervation is described as originating from thick and straight stromal nerve trunks that extend lateral and anteriorly and give rise to plexiform arrangements of progressively thinner nerve fibers at several levels within the stroma. From there, nerve fibers perforate Bowman's layer and eventually form a dense neural plexus just beneath the basal epithelial cell layer, which is characterized by tortuous and thin beaded nerve fibers interconnected by numerous nerve elements; nerve fibers from this plexus are known to be responsible for the innervation of the epithelium.

Conclusion. This study provides convincing evidence of the suitability of confocal microscopy to image corneal nerves, the only drawback being the limited resolution in terms of the differentiation of the ultrastructure of nerve bundles.

From the Department of Optometry and Neuroscience, University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), Manchester, United Kingdom.

Laura Oliveira-Soto was the recipient of Fundación Barrié de la Maza & The British Council scholarship.

Submitted September 8, 2000.

Revision received January 10, 2001.

Accepted January 11, 2001.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. L. Oliveira-Soto, Departamento de |fOptica y Optometría, Universidad Europea-CEES, Villaviciosa de Odón, 28670 Madrid, Spain.

© 2001 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.