[In vivo imaging of corneal innervation in the human using confocal microscopy]

Ophthalmologe. 1997 Feb;94(2):141-6. doi: 10.1007/s003470050095.
[Article in German]


To date, descriptions of the structure of corneal innervation have only been possible on the basis of histological techniques. Confocal microscopy represents a new method for the structural examination of the cornea in vivo. Through our examinations we first defined the control group and then proceeded to record the reinnervation of donor tissue after perforating keratoplasty. We used the confocal slit-scanning video-microscope Microphthal to examine 40 corneas from 20 normal volunteers, 15 donor corneas and 5 eyes after enucleation for ocular tumors. These results were compared to our findings from postoperative checks on 14 patients after perforating keratoplasty (from 1 month to 2 years). With this system we were able to see nerves in the middle and in the superficial stroma. The course of these nerves can be followed, as well as their branching in the subepithelial plexus. Nerve fibers from superficial stromal nerves penetrate Bowman's membrane and create the basal epithelial plexus in the region of the basal epithelium. Seven months after perforating keratoplasty the first stromal nerves could be seen in the central corneal area. The first central reinnervation in the region of Bowman's membrane as well as in the basal epithelium was not detected until 15 months after operation. With confocal microscopy we have the potential to study the morphology of corneal innervation in vivo and in fresh donor tissue. For the first time it is possible to perform non-invasive morphological studies of reinnervation of the human cornea after surgical treatment.

Publication types

  • English Abstract

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Corneal Stroma / innervation*
  • Eye Enucleation
  • Eye Neoplasms / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Keratoplasty, Penetrating
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Fibers / ultrastructure*
  • Nerve Regeneration
  • Orbital Neoplasms / pathology