Purpose: To evaluate morphologic aspects of age-related liquefaction of the human vitreous body by light and electron microscopy to provide a basis from which future studies directed at the pathogenesis of this phenomenon can be undertaken. The study focuses on changes in fibrillar collagen and proteoglycans (PGs).
Methods: Morphologic aspects of intravitreal liquefied spaces and matrix areas surrounding them were examined in 13 adult human donor eyes (aged 21-80 years) by light (LM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Collagen fibrils were visualized by using standard contrasting methods. PGs were specifically stained by cupromeronic blue (CB).
Results: Eyes from older donors contained larger spaces than eyes from younger ones. Transitions between matrix and spaces were abrupt or gradual. In transition areas of all specimens, a gradual decrease in the number of collagen fibers, and to a lesser extent of PGs was observed. In addition, a fragmentation of collagen fibers and an aggregation of PG-molecules around these fragments were found. Neither cells nor their fragments were observed in these areas.
Conclusions: This is the first study to evaluate vitreous liquefaction at the light and electron microscopic level. A breakdown of collagen fibrils into smaller fragments seems to be crucial to the pathogenesis of age-related liquefaction of the human vitreous body. The mechanism inducing fragmentation of vitreous fibrils has yet to be elucidated. From the absence of cells and cellular remnants in all specimens, it is tentatively concluded that an extracellular process is involved.