To evaluate the usefulness of an in vitro corneal organ culture system for studying severe alkali burns.
Fresh bovine cornea was cultured using an established organ culture system. Two molar sodium hydroxide was applied to the corneal and limbal epithelia for 60 seconds. Gross and ultrastructural changes were evaluated at different time points over a 1-week period.
The condition of the alkali-burned cornea deteriorated in a time-dependent manner over the 1-week period. Gross changes were evident immediately, and ultrastructural changes were detected in the epithelium, stroma, and endothelium at 1 hour after the alkali burn. By 7 days, most of the corneal and limbal epithelia were destroyed. The corneal stroma was disrupted with separation of lamella and fragmentation of collagen fibrils. By day 7, the endothelium was reduced to cellular debris, although Descemet membrane remained intact.
The changes observed in the in vitro organ culture model in response to a severe alkali burn are similar to those observed by other groups in clinical and in vivo studies. We believe that this or similar organ culture systems could be used to evaluate some aspects of severe alkali burns.