Scleral biomechanics in the aging monkey eye

Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2009 Nov;50(11):5226-37. doi: 10.1167/iovs.08-3363. Epub 2009 Jun 3.


Purpose: To investigate the age-related differences in the inhomogeneous, anisotropic, nonlinear biomechanical properties of posterior sclera from old (22.9 +/- 5.3 years) and young (1.5 +/- 0.7 years) rhesus monkeys.

Methods: The posterior scleral shell of each eye was mounted on a custom-built pressurization apparatus, then intraocular pressure (IOP) was elevated from 5 to 45 mm Hg while the 3D displacements of the scleral surface were measured with speckle interferometry. Each scleral shell's geometry was digitally reconstructed from data generated by a 3-D digitizer (topography) and 20-MHz ultrasound (thickness). An inverse finite element (FE) method incorporating a fiber-reinforced constitutive model was used to extract a unique set of biomechanical properties for each eye. Displacements, thickness, stress, strain, tangent modulus, structural stiffness, and preferred collagen fiber orientation were mapped for each posterior sclera.

Results: The model yielded 3-D deformations of posterior sclera that matched well with those observed experimentally. The posterior sclera exhibited inhomogeneous, anisotropic, nonlinear mechanical behavior. The sclera was significantly thinner (P = 0.038) and tangent modulus and structural stiffness were significantly higher in old monkeys (P < 0.0001). On average, scleral collagen fibers were circumferentially oriented around the optic nerve head (ONH). No difference was found in the preferred collagen fiber orientation and fiber concentration factor between age groups.

Conclusions: Posterior sclera of old monkeys is significantly stiffer than that of young monkeys and is therefore subject to higher stresses but lower strains at all levels of IOP. Age-related stiffening of the sclera may significantly influence ONH biomechanics and potentially contribute to age-related susceptibility to glaucomatous vision loss.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Anisotropy
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Elasticity
  • Female
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Intraocular Pressure / physiology
  • Macaca mulatta / physiology*
  • Male
  • Sclera / physiology*


  • Collagen