The Dry Eye Zone

Rebecca's Blog

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Study: The life and times of corneal nerves

I thought this was a very nice compact paragraph explaining in a straightforward, readable way all about corneal nerves and where they can go wrong.

As with so many other aspects of dry eye, there is not always a nice neat straight line to be drawn between what they can see in studying the nerves, and what we feel. That’s what they mean by:

Morphology and function do not always correlate.

i.e. what you see is not necessarily what you get.

Corneal nerves in health and disease. Al Aqaba et al, Prog Retin Eye Res. 2019 May 7.

The cornea is the most sensitive structure in the human body. Corneal nerves adapt to maintain transparency and contribute to corneal health by mediating tear secretion and protective reflexes and provide trophic support to epithelial and stromal cells. The nerves destined for the cornea travel from the trigeminal ganglion in a complex and coordinated manner to terminate between and within corneal epithelial cells with which they are intricately integrated in a relationship of mutual support involving neurotrophins and neuromediators. The nerve terminals/receptors carry sensory impulses generated by mechanical, pain, cold and chemical stimuli. Modern imaging modalities have revealed a range of structural abnormalities such as attrition of nerves in neurotrophic keratopathy and post-penetrating keratoplasty; hyper-regeneration in keratoconus; decrease of sub-basal plexus with increased stromal nerves in bullous keratopathy and changes such as thickening, tortuosity, coiling and looping in a host of conditions including post corneal surgery. Functionally, symptoms of hyperaesthesia, pain, hypoaesthesia and anaesthesia dominate. Morphology and function do not always correlate. Symptoms can dominate in the absence of any visible nerve pathology and vice-versa. Sensory and trophic functions too can be dissociated with pre-ganglionic lesions causing sensory loss despite preservation of the sub-basal nerve plexus and minimal neurotrophic keratopathy. Structural and/or functional nerve anomalies can be induced by corneal pathology and conversely, nerve pathology can drive inflammation and corneal pathology. Improvements in accuracy of assessing sensory function and imaging nerves in vivo will reveal more information on the cause and effect relationship between corneal nerves and corneal diseases.