Graft survival and endothelial outcomes in the new era of endothelial keratoplasty

Exp Eye Res. 2012 Feb;95(1):40-7. doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2011.05.013. Epub 2011 Jun 15.


Corneal endothelial cells do not proliferative in vivo sufficiently to enable endothelial regeneration, and thus diseases of the corneal endothelium, which cause poor vision and discomfort, require treatment by transplantation of cadaveric donor corneal endothelial cells. The two major goals of any corneal transplant procedure are to restore vision and to promote longevity of the donor cornea by maintaining a healthy donor endothelial cell density. Over the last decade, the surgical treatment for endothelial disease has rapidly evolved toward endothelial keratoplasty, or selective tissue transplantation, and away from full-thickness penetrating keratoplasty (PK). While endothelial keratoplasty offers distinct advantages over PK in terms of visual outcomes and a smaller incision, the new surgical manipulations of the fragile donor tissue cause significant donor endothelial cell trauma. As a result, donor endothelial cell loss is much higher during the first month after Descemet stripping endothelial keratoplasty (DSEK) compared to after PK, and the primary (or more appropriately, iatrogenic) graft failure rate of 5% remains unacceptably high. Nevertheless, the rate of endothelial cell loss rapidly decreases beyond 6 months after DSEK, and thus endothelial cell loss at 5 years after DSEK appears to be lower than that at 5 years after PK. In the absence of primary (iatrogenic) graft failure, graft survival through 5 years after DSEK is similar to that after PK. Given the promising longer-term endothelial outcomes of DSEK, the quest for optimizing the visual outcomes has spurred interest in Descemet membrane endothelial keratoplasty (DMEK). While early results after DMEK suggest better visual outcomes than after DSEK, the technique needs to be simplified, and longer-term outcomes must show an advantage over DSEK with respect to vision, endothelial cell loss, and graft survival. DMEK also has a high rate of primary (iatrogenic) graft failure, and additional donor tissue wastage occurs when preparation of DMEK grafts is unsuccessful. This review discusses endothelial keratoplasty techniques and the associated endothelial outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Survival
  • Cornea / blood supply*
  • Cornea / physiopathology
  • Corneal Diseases / pathology
  • Corneal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Corneal Diseases / surgery*
  • Descemet Stripping Endothelial Keratoplasty* / adverse effects
  • Endothelial Cells / pathology
  • Endothelial Cells / transplantation*
  • Graft Survival*
  • Humans
  • Keratoplasty, Penetrating
  • Recovery of Function
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vascular System Injuries / etiology
  • Vision, Ocular