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Age-related differences in the normal human cornea: a laser scanning in vivo confocal microscopy study
  1. R L Niederer,
  2. D Perumal,
  3. T Sherwin,
  4. C N J McGhee
  1. Department of Ophthalmology, Faculty of Medical & Health Sciences, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand
  1. Professor Charles N J McGhee, Department of Ophthalmology, Faculty of Medical & Health Sciences, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand; c.mcghee{at}auckland.ac.nz

Abstract

Aims: To quantify and establish baseline normative data for age-related differences in cellular and innervation density in the normal, healthy, human cornea using laser scanning in vivo confocal microscopy.

Methods: Cross-sectional study of 85 normal subjects assessed via corneal topography and laser scanning in vivo confocal microscopy.

Results: Mean age was 38±16 years (range 18–87 years) and 60% of subjects were female. Anterior keratocyte density declined by 0.9% per year (r = −0.423, p<0.001), posterior keratocyte density declined by 0.3% per year (r = −0.250, p = 0.021) and endothelial cell density declined by 0.5% per year (r = −0.615, p<0.001). Sub-basal nerve fibre density declined by 0.9% per year (r = −0.423, p<0.001). No association was observed between age and basal epithelial cell density, or between age and central corneal thickness, corneal astigmatism or horizontal corneal diameter (p>0.05). No association was observed between subject gender and corneal cell or innervation density.

Conclusions: Using laser scanning in vivo confocal microscopy this study highlights a significant, and relatively linear, reduction in keratocyte and endothelial cell density with increasing subject age. Interestingly, corneal sub-basal nerve fibre density also significantly decreases with increasing age. In vivo laser scanning confocal microscopy provides a safe, non-invasive method for the establishment of normative data and assessment of alterations in human corneal microstructure following surgery or disease processes.

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Footnotes

  • Competing interests: None declared.

  • Abbreviations:
    LASIK

    laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis

    NFD

    nerve fibre density

    PRK

    photorefractive keratectomy

    RCM

    Rostock corneal module

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