Purpose: To evaluate acute histological changes and the induced wound healing response in corneal tissue following noncontact holmium:YAG laser thermal keratoplasty (LTK).
Methods: LTK using 10 pulses and a range of radiant energies was performed on 3 human corneas one day prior ro their removal at penetrating keratoplasty. Rabbit corneas were treated with 10-pulse and 5-pulse LTK and followed for up to 3 months. Tissues were studies with light and transmission electron microscopy and immunohistochemistry.
Results: The amount of acute tissue injury increased with increasing pulse radiant energy. In human corneas, changes in the irradiated zones included epithelial cell injury and death loss of fine filamentous structure in Bowman's layer, disruption of stromal lamallae, and keratocyte injury and death. In the rabbit corneas, similar acute changes were noted. By 3 weeks, epithelial hyperplasia and stromal contraction were present. Wound healing in the rabbit corneas included repair of the epithelial attachment complex, keratocyte activation, synthesis of type I collagen, partial restoration of stromal keratan sulfate and type VI collagen, and retrocorneal membrane formation. Compared to 10-pulse treatments, 5-pulse treatments produced less acute tissue injury and had more rapid restoration of normal stromal architecture.
Conclusion: Noncontact LTK produces acute epithelial and stromal tissue changes and in rabbit corneas stimulates a brisk wound healing response. These changes could contribute to postoperative regression of induced refractive correction. Further work is required to determine if reductions in the magnitude of acute tissue injury and induced wound healing response will enhance the efficacy and stability of LTK.