Corneal nerves: structure, contents and function

Exp Eye Res. 2003 May;76(5):521-42. doi: 10.1016/s0014-4835(03)00050-2.


This review provides a comprehensive analysis of the structure, neurochemical content, and functions of corneal nerves, with special emphasis on human corneal nerves. A revised interpretation of human corneal nerve architecture is presented based on recent observations obtained by in vivo confocal microscopy (IVCM), immunohistochemistry, and ultrastructural analyses of serial-sectioned human corneas. Current data on the neurotransmitter and neuropeptide contents of corneal nerves are discussed, as are the mechanisms by which corneal neurochemicals and associated neurotrophins modulate corneal physiology, homeostasis and wound healing. The results of recent clinical studies of topically applied neuropeptides and neurotrophins to treat neurotrophic keratitis are reviewed. Recommendations for using IVCM to evaluate corneal nerves in health and disease are presented.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cornea / innervation*
  • Cornea / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Keratitis / etiology
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Nerve Fibers / ultrastructure
  • Neuropeptides / physiology
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Wound Healing


  • Neuropeptides
  • Neurotransmitter Agents