The prenatal development of the human orbit

Strabismus. 2006 Mar;14(1):51-6. doi: 10.1080/09273970600579788.


During the 1970s, as part of his work for a doctor's thesis in which he described the development of the human orbit in great detail, the first author established the largest anatomical collection of embryonic and fetal orbits ever. Unfortunately, he died before the thesis could be finished. The thousands of sections have now been scanned at high resolution and made publicly available on the Internet at; 3-D reconstruction software is being developed. The Discussion and part of the 'Methods' section of this thesis are published in translation in this article. The conclusions of the first author at the time read as follows: (1) initially, the developing orbit is vaguely indicated by condensations in the mesenchymal connective tissue area; (2) in this connective tissue area, chondral, osseous and muscular structures develop and grow until, in the fully developed stage, the orbital content is surrounded by bony surfaces with a thin layer of connective tissue as periosteum, and by a muscle fragment; (3) the embryonic and early fetal phase, during which one can only speak of a 'regio orbitalis,' is followed by a period in which we can speak of a primordial orbit; (4) the phase of the primordial orbit extends until after birth; (5) the surface area of all orbital walls increases more or less linearly; (6) the 'musculus orbitalis Mülleri' occupies a special place in the orbital wall; (7) the so-called 'regio craniolateralis' is the primordium, which, in the fully developed stage, is occupied by the thick intersection of the frontolateral and the horizontal part of the frontal bone; (8) in the frontal plane, the shape of the primordial orbit, as well as that of the fully developed orbit, is more or less round; (9) the prenatal development of an eye socket is a complex event, characterized by changes in composition, shape and size of the orbital wall; and (10) the orbit can only be denoted by the term "eye socket" when it is fully developed. At the end of the thesis, he also presented the following postulates: (1) in the prenatal orbit, the development of the so-called 'periorbita' is at the forefront; (2) the mutual rotation of the orbital axes and the frontalization of the eyes from approx. 180 degrees in the early prenatal stages to approx. 50 degrees in adulthood do not seem to be caused by mechanical influences of the surrounding tissue; (3) the pterygopalatine fossa and the 'cavum cerebri' are not part of the orbit at any developmental stage; (4) in the prenatal skull, the inferior nasal concha, which forms part of the maxilla in the fully developed skull, is part of the 'capsula nasalis'; and (5) in order to achieve normal development of the eye socket in microphthalmus and anophthalmus, the normal orbital content should be restored.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Fetal Development*
  • Fetus / anatomy & histology*
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Orbit / embryology*
  • Pregnancy