Three adult rhesus monkeys were subjected to 2 and 24 hours of polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) contact lens wear. The induced corneal changes were examined with the electron microscope. Mild epithelial oedema as well as early degenerative cell changes was present already after 2 hours' wear. Rigid lens wear for 24 hours produced more severe oedema and cell alterations together with premature cell loss and ultimately, in areas of lens bearing, corneal denuding. Only the monkeys wearing contact lenses for 24 hours had significant stromal swelling, which was primarily evident in the posterior region, while the anterior limiting lamina remained unaffected. The stromal swelling was patchy and mainly around keratocytes and between lamellae, while fluid within the lamellae was evident only occasionally in posterior stroma. Changes among keratocytes were evident, especially posteriorly, where reaction was frequently severe. Endothelial reaction was restricted to a limited fluid uptake in the 24-hour-wear experiment. In addition there was in these monkeys an apparent loosening of the endothelial adhesion to the posterior limiting lamina. It is concluded that the oedematous epithelium undergoes cell shrinkage and flattening, which is compensated for by an uptake of fluid. The uptake of fluid maintains the overall normal thickness of the epithelium. The conclusion is supported by other studies, where the normal thickness of oedematous epithelium has been shown by pachometry. The results in the present study further suggest that stromal oedema in the contact lens wearer is a result of a relative loss of endothelial function, leading to a swelling that moves in a posterior to anterior direction.
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