Purpose: To assess the relationship between regional variation of axon loss and optic nerve head anatomy in laser-induced experimental glaucoma in the mouse.
Methods: Experimental glaucoma was induced unilaterally in eight NIH Swiss black mice. Intraocular pressure (IOP) was measured for 12 weeks, and the mice were killed. The eyes were enucleated, and both optic nerves were dissected and processed conventionally for electron microscopy. Low- and high-magnification images of the optic nerve cross sections 300 microm posterior to the globe were collected systematically and masked before analysis. For each nerve, cross-sectional area was measured in low-magnification micrographs. Axon number and density were determined in the high-magnification micrographs. Loss of axonal density was compared between the superior and inferior and nasal and temporal areas of the optic nerve cross section. Additional cross-section micrographs were collected at 10- or 20-microm intervals throughout the optic nerve head.
Results: In the treated (glaucoma) eyes, mean IOP was 44% higher than that in the control eyes. The optic nerve cross-sectional area, mean axonal density, and total axonal number were significantly less than those in the control eyes (P < 0.01 for each). Axon loss in the superior optic nerve was greater than in the inferior optic nerve in each glaucomatous eye (P = 0.012). The ratio of axonal density in the superior and inferior optic nerve (superior-to-inferior [S/I] ratio) in all treated eyes was <1.0 and significantly lower than that in the control eyes (P = 0.012). The central retinal vessels occupied approximately 20% of the central optic nerve head cross-sectional area, gradually shifted position ventrally as they progressed toward the scleral foramen (the mouse does not have a lamina cribrosa), and exited the inferior retrobulbar optic nerve adjacent to the posterior of the globe.
Conclusions: Ocular hypertension in the mouse eye sufficient to cause optic nerve damage induces preferential loss of superior optic nerve axons. Optic nerve axon loss appeared less among the axons that were near the major optic nerve blood vessels at the scleral foramen. Topographic differences in optic nerve axon loss should be considered when evaluating optic nerve damage in experimental laser-induced glaucoma in the mouse.