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In vivo confocal microscopy of human corneal nerves in health, in ocular and systemic disease, and following corneal surgery: a review


The exponential evolution of in vivo confocal microscopy (IVCM) has led to a significant enhancement in our knowledge of the living cornea in both its physiological and pathological states. Studies using white light and coherent light-based IVCM have enabled detailed quantitative analysis of sub-basal nerve parameters, and have also resulted in the elucidation of the two-dimensional architecture of the normal corneal sub-basal nerve plexus. However, accurate and repeatable methods for quantitative analysis of stromal nerves imaged by IVCM remain to be developed. The effect of corneal surgery on central corneal nerves has been well documented in many IVCM studies, and these studies provide an indication of the regenerative capacity of corneal nerves. IVCM has also clearly demonstrated the involvement of corneal nerves in diseases such as keratoconus, although it remains unclear whether these alterations are a cause of, or occur secondary to, the disease process. IVCM has also been proposed as non-invasive method of accurately diagnosing and assessing the progression of diabetic neuropathy, highlighting the potential application of this technique as an indicator of systemic disease. This review consolidates our knowledge of how IVCM has contributed significantly to our greater understanding of corneal nerves in the living human cornea in health and disease.

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