The aim of this study was to quantify connective tissue fibre orientation and alignment in young, old and glaucomatous human optic nerve heads (ONH) to understand ONH microstructure and predisposition to glaucomatous optic neuropathy. Transverse (seven healthy, three glaucomatous) and longitudinal (14 healthy) human ONH cryosections were imaged by both second harmonic generation microscopy and small angle light scattering (SALS) in order to quantify preferred fibre orientation (PFO) and degree of fibre alignment (DOFA). DOFA was highest within the peripapillary sclera (ppsclera), with relatively low values in the lamina cribrosa (LC). Elderly ppsclera DOFA was higher than that in young ppsclera (p < 0.00007), and generally higher than in glaucoma ppsclera. In all LCs, a majority of fibres had preferential orientation horizontally across the nasal-temporal axis. In all glaucomatous LCs, PFO was significantly different from controls in a minimum of seven out of 12 LC regions (p < 0.05). Additionally, higher fibre alignment was observed in the glaucomatous inferior-temporal LC (p < 0.017). The differences between young and elderly ONH fibre alignment within regions suggest that age-related microstructural changes occur within the structure. The additional differences in fibre alignment observed within the glaucomatous LC may reflect an inherent susceptibility to glaucomatous optic neuropathy, or may be a consequence of ONH remodelling and/or collapse.
Keywords: connective tissue; fibre orientation and alignment; glaucoma; optic nerve head; second harmonic generation; small angle light scattering.