Regulation of the mechanical properties of tree shrew sclera by the visual environment

Vision Res. 1999 Jan;39(2):387-407. doi: 10.1016/s0042-6989(98)00150-3.


Experiments in several species have shown that the axial elongation rate of the developing eye can be increased or decreased by manipulating the visual environment, indicating that a visually guided emmetropization mechanism controls the enlargement of the vertebrate eye during postnatal development. Previous studies in tree shrews (Tupaia glis belangeri) suggest that regulation of the mechanical properties of the sclera may be an important part of the mechanism that controls the axial elongation rate in this mammal. To learn whether the mechanical properties of the sclera change when the axial elongation rate is increased or decreased under visual control, uniaxial mechanical tests were performed on 3-mm wide strips of tree shrew sclera. The creep rate was measured under 1, 3, and 5 g of tension, maintained for 30 min at each level. The modulus of elasticity was calculated from the elastic extension that occurred when the force was increased from 0 to 1 g, 1 to 3 g, and 3 to 5 g. Both were measured in the sclera of both eyes from animals exposed to four experimental conditions: (1) Normal development, at intervals from the day of natural eyelid opening (day 1 of visual experience [VE]) to greater than 5 years of age; (2) Monocular form deprivation (MD), for varying lengths of time; (3) Recovery from MD; (4) Monocular -5 D lens treatment. The creep rate was low in normal animals (1-2% elongation/h), did not change significantly between day 1 and day 75 of VE, and was not significantly different between the two eyes. Four days of MD produced a 200-300% increase in creep rate in the sclera from deprived eyes. Creep rate remained similarly elevated after 11 and 21 days of MD. After 2 days of recovery, which followed 11 days of MD, the creep rate of sclera from the recovering eyes was below normal levels. In animals that wore a monocular -5 D lens for up to 21 days, creep rate increased, and then decreased, in concert with the increase, and decrease, in axial elongation rate as the eyes compensated for the lens. The modulus of elasticity of the sclera was not significantly affected by any manipulation. The temporal correspondence between changes in axial elongation rate and changes in creep rate support the hypothesis that regulation of the time-dependent mechanical properties of fibrous mammalian sclera plays a role in controlling axial elongation rate during both normal emmetropization and the development of refractive errors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Elasticity
  • Environment
  • Rheology
  • Sclera / growth & development
  • Sclera / physiology*
  • Sensory Deprivation
  • Tupaiidae / physiology*
  • Vision, Monocular
  • Visual Perception / physiology*