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Analysis of Corneal Stroma Organization With Wavefront Optimized Nonlinear Microscopy

PURPOSE: To investigate the organization of stromal collagen in healthy ex vivo corneas of different species from second harmonic generation (SHG) microscopy images.

METHODS:  A custom backscattered nonlinear microscope has been used to study the corneal structure of different species: porcine, bovine, rabbit, rat, chicken, and humans. The instrument uses a femtosecond laser for illumination, a scanning unit, and a photon-counting detection evice. It also includes a wavefront aberration control module.

RESULTS: SHG images revealed the microscopic organization of the lamellae of collagen fibers. Despite absorption, for all corneal depths, images could be analyzed. The anterior stroma was similar in all samples, showing interwoven short bands of collagen randomly distributed. The lamellae at the central and posterior stroma were densely packed and often presented longer bundles lying predominantly parallel to the corneal surface with characteristic spatial distributions for each species. In particular, collagen bundles in bovine and porcine corneas were interweaved. In the chick cornea, the stromal arrangement had an orientation changing regularly with depth. In human corneas, lamellae were longer and had similar orientation than their neighbors.

CONCLUSIONS: Using a unique wavefront aberration–controlled backscattered nonlinear microscope, changes in corneal morphology as a function of depth were characterized for different species (including humans). This allowed a direct comparison among species, which might help to establish the basis of collagen distribution in animal models or to understand diseased corneas.

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