The connective tissue and glial framework in the optic nerve head of the normal human eye : light and scanning electron microscopic studies
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The arrangement of connective tissue components (i.e., collagen, reticular, and elastic fibers) and glial elements in the optic nerve head of the human eye was investigated by the combined use of light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Light-microscopically, the optic nerve head could be subdivided into four parts from the different arrangements of the connective tissue framework: a surface nerve fiber layer, and prelaminar, laminar, and postlaminar regions. The surface nerve fiber layer only possessed connective tissue elements around blood vessels. In the prelaminar region, collagen fibrils, together with delicate elastic fibers, formed thin interrupted sheaths for accommodating small nerve bundles. Immunohistochemistry for the glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) showed that GFAP-positive cells formed columnar structures (i.e., glial columns), with round cell bodies piled up into layers. These glial columns were located in the fibrous sheaths of collagen fibrils and elastic fibers. In the laminar region, collagen fibrils and elastic fibers ran transversely to the optic nerve axis to form a thick membranous layer - the lamina cribrosa - which had numerous round openings for accommodating optic nerve fiber bundles. GFAP-positive cellular processes also ran transversely in association with collagen and elastin components. The postlaminar region had connective tissues which linked the lamina cribrosa with fibrous sheaths for accommodating nerve bundles in the extraocular optic nerve, where GFAP-positive cells acquired characteristics typical of fibrous astrocytes. These findings indicate that collagen fibrils, as a whole, form a continuous network which serves as a skeletal framework of the optic nerve head for protecting optic nerve fibers from mechanical stress as well as for sustaining blood vessels in the optic nerve. The lamina cribrosa containing elastic fibers are considered to be plastic against the mechanical force affected by elevation of the intraocular pressure. The present study has also indicated that glial cells with an astrocytic character play an important role in constructing the connective tissue framework characteristic of the optic nerve head.
- Archivum histologicum japonicum
Archivum histologicum japonicum 69(5), 341-356, 2006-12-31
International Society of Histology and Cytology