Three-dimensional arrangement of elastic fibers in the human corneal stroma
Experimental Eye Research
© 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
The cornea is the main refracting lens in the eye. As part of the outer tunic it has to be resilient, a property conferred by the organisation of the constituent collagen. It also has to be sufficiently elastic to regain its exact shape when deformed, in order not to distort the retinal image. The basis of this elasticity is not fully understood. The purpose of this study was to characterise in three dimensions the arrangement and distribution of elastic fibers in the human corneal stroma, using serial block face scanning electron microscopy. We have demonstrated that there exists a complex network of elastic fibers that appear to originate in the sclera or limbus. These appear as elastic sheets in the limbus and peripheral cornea immediately above the trabecular meshwork which itself appears to extend above Descemet's membrane in the peripheral stroma. From these sheets, elastic fibers extend into the cornea; moving centrally they bifurcate and trifurcate into narrower fibers and are concentrated in the posterior stroma immediately above Descemet's membrane. We contend that elastic sheets will play an important role in the biomechanical deformation and recovery of the peripheral cornea. The network may also have practical implications for understanding the structural basis behind a number of corneal surgeries.
We would like to thank Dr Anthony Hayes and Mr Derek Scarborough for help with the histology presented in this study and Dr Sally Hayes for useful discussions concerning data interpretation. This work was funded by a Programme Grant (503626) from the Medical Research Council (to KMM) and an MRC studentship (to TW). We thank the CTC Eye Bank at Bristol, UK and the HDBR at Newcastle, UK, for supply of human corneas. The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.
This is the final version of the article. Available from the publisher via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 146, pp. 43 - 53