Background/Aims Congenital corneal anaesthesia (CCA) is an uncommon cause of corneal ulceration in young patients, with a reported poor visual prognosis. We correlated clinical findings in patients with CCA with corneal sub-basal nerve plexus (SBNP) morphology and dendritiform cell density (DCD) on confocal microscopy.
Methods A prospective, case–control study was conducted at a referral clinic. History includied presenting features in patients with CCA, clinical course and examination findings. Differences in SBNP morphology and DCD on in vivo confocal microscopy (IVCM) were compared in cases and control subjects with healthy corneas.
Results Eight patients with CCA were examined, of which three had a diagnosis of familial dysautonomia. Age at initial diagnosis of corneal disease ranged from infancy to 22 years, the most common presentation being corneal ulceration. All patients with CCA except one with optic neuropathy had corrected visual acuity 6/18 (logMAR 0.35) or better in at least one eye. Measured corneal sensation was minimal in all patients. Major abnormalities were found on confocal microscopy in all patients with CCA, whether or not inherited, including statistically significant reduction in SBNP nerve fibre density, fibre length and branch density. Increased DCD in superficial cornea was found in all patients with CCA.
Conclusion Good visual acuity can be maintained in eyes with corneal anaesthesia present from birth. IVCM provides direct evidence of a morphological correlate for measured corneal anaesthesia. Increased DCD may indicate an enhanced role for innate immune cells in superficial cornea in protection of the anaesthetic ocular surface.
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