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Treatment of neurotrophic keratopathy with minimally invasive corneal neurotisation: long-term clinical outcomes and evidence of corneal reinnervation

Abstract

Aim To report clinical outcomes and evidence of corneal innervation in patients with neurotrophic keratopathy (NK) treated with minimally invasive corneal neurotisation (MICN) using a sural nerve graft and donor sensory nerves from the face.

Methods Patients undergoing MICN at The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada were prospectively recruited. Data on central corneal sensation (CCS, measured with Cochet-Bonnet aesthesiometer), best-corrected visual acuity (BCVA) and corneal epithelial integrity were collected. In four patients who subsequently underwent keratoplasty, immunohistochemical analysis was performed on the corneal explants. One patient underwent magnetoencephalography (MEG) after MICN to characterise the neurophysiological pathways involved.

Results Between November 2012 and February 2017, 19 eyes of 16 patients underwent MICN. Mean follow-up was 24.0±16.1 months (range, 6–53). Mean CCS significantly improved from 0.8±2.5 mm to 49.7±15.5 mm at final follow-up (p<0.001). Mean BCVA remained stable, and the number of episodes of corneal epithelial defects after MICN was significantly reduced compared with the year leading up to the procedure (21% vs 89%, respectively; p<0.0001). In the four eyes that underwent keratoplasties after MICN, all transplants fully re-epithelialised and regained sensation subsequently. Immunohistochemistry of the corneal explants demonstrated evidence of corneal reinnervation. In one patient who was 8 months after MICN, novel neuroactivity was detected on MEG in the ipsilateral somatosensory cortex on mechanical stimulation of the reinnervated cornea.

Conclusions By providing an alternative source of innervation, MICN improves corneal sensation and stabilises the corneal epithelium, permitting optical keratoplasty for patients with NK-related corneal opacity.

  • neurotrophic keratopathy
  • corneal sensation
  • neurotization
  • corneal neurotization
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