Purpose: To measure the histologic thickness of the retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) in normal human eyes.
Methods: Human eyes were obtained at autopsy within 6 hours postmortem. The retina was dissected into four quadrants and serially sectioned in historesin. The RNFL thickness was measured histologically in all four quadrants at the disc margin and at regular intervals from the disc margin. Measurements of the RNFL thickness also were obtained at the fovea and in the retinal periphery.
Results: Ten eyes of ten white individuals were studied. Age (mean +/- standard deviation) was 53.1 +/- 19.6 years (range, 18-76 years). For the eyes studied, the disc area (mean +/- standard deviation) and cup:disc ratio (mean +/- standard deviation) were 1.92 +/- 0.1 mm2 and 0.3 +/- 0.08, respectively. Mean superior, inferior, nasal, and temporal RNFL thickness at the disc margin was 405, 376, 372, and 316 microns, respectively. In all four quadrants, the RNFL thickness decreased with increasing distance from the disc margin. The average superior and inferior RNFL thickness was inversely related to age (P = 0.033, P = 0.097, respectively). The average RNFL thickness was not related to disc area. The average RNFL thickness just superior, inferior, nasal, and temporal to the foveola was 27, 34, 26, and 12 microns, respectively. The average RNFL thickness just posterior to the ora serrata in the superior, inferior, nasal, and temporal retinal periphery was 8 to 11 microns.
Conclusion: The peripapillary RNFL thickness in humans is thicker than that seen in nonhuman primates. The thinnest peripapillary RNFL is in the region of the papillomacular bundle. These data can be used to determine the accuracy of NFL analyzers in obtaining in vivo RNFL thickness measurements.