The regulation of eye growth and refractive state: an experimental study of emmetropization

Vision Res. 1991;31(7-8):1237-50. doi: 10.1016/0042-6989(91)90048-a.


During growth the vertebrate eye achieves a close match between the power of its optics and its axial length with the result that images are focused on the retina without accommodative effort (emmetropia). The possibility that vision is required for the regulation of eye growth was studied experimentally in chicks made myopic or hyperopic by different visual manipulations. After discontinuing these visual manipulations, the eyes returned quickly to emmetropia mainly by adjusting the growth of their vitreous chambers; growth stopped in eyes recovering from myopia and continued in eyes recovering from hyperopia. Because both hyperopic and myopic eyes were already larger than normal controls, the difference in growth indicates that refractive error, rather than eye size per se, guides the eye toward emmetropia. Evidence is also presented for nonvisual shape-related control of eye growth, but this is slow-acting and cannot explain the emmetropization from induced refractive errors. Both the visually guided and shape-related mechanisms work even in eyes with the optic nerve cut, indicating that the two mechanisms are local to the eye. Although the optic-nerve-sectioned eye can sense the sign of a refractive error and initially adjust growth accordingly, it eventually overshoots emmetropia and reverses the sign of the initial refractive error. Whether this is due to loss of feedback from the central nervous system or retinal ganglion cells is unclear.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Anterior Chamber / anatomy & histology
  • Biometry
  • Chickens
  • Cornea / anatomy & histology
  • Denervation
  • Eye / growth & development*
  • Optic Nerve / physiology
  • Refraction, Ocular*
  • Refractive Errors / etiology
  • Sensory Deprivation / physiology