Purpose: To investigate the architecture and distribution of collagen and elastin in human limbal conjunctiva, Tenon's capsule, and sclera.
Methods: The limbal conjunctiva, Tenon's capsule, and sclera of human donor corneal buttons were imaged with an inverted two-photon excited fluorescence microscope. No fixation process was necessary. The laser (Ti:sapphire) was tuned at 850 nm for two-photon excitation. Backscatter signals of second harmonic generation (SHG) and autofluorescence (AF) were collected through a 425/30-nm and a 525/45-nm emission filter, respectively. Multiple, consecutive, and overlapping (z-stack) images were acquired. Collagen signals were collected with SHG, whereas elastin signals were collected with AF.
Results: The size and density of collagen bundles varied widely depending on depth: increasing from conjunctiva to sclera. In superficial image planes, collagen bundles were <10 μm in width, in a loose, disorganized arrangement. In deeper image planes (episclera and superficial sclera), collagen bundles were thicker (near 100 μm in width) and densely packed. Comparatively, elastin fibers were thinner and sparse. The orientation of elastin fibers was independent of collagen fibers in superficial layers; but in deep sclera, elastin fibers wove through collagen interbundle gaps. At the limbus, both collagen and elastin fibers were relatively compact and were distributed perpendicular to the limbal annulus.
Conclusions: Two-photon excited fluorescence microscopy has enabled us to understand in greater detail the collagen and elastin architecture of the human limbal conjunctiva, Tenon's capsule, and sclera.