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Corneal nerves in micro optical coherence tomography

Poster Details

First Author: C.Elhardt USA

Co Author(s):    C. Wertheimer   H. Leung   G. Sharma   K. Singh   R. Birngruber   G. Tearney     

Abstract Details


Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a standard, non-contact method for clinical evaluation of the cornea with a resolution of approximately 10µm. In this study, we tested the capability of an advanced, 1µm-resolution form of OCT termed micro OCT (µOCT) prototype to visualize corneal nerves in three dimensions.


Wellman Center for Photomedicine, Harvard Medical School


Three-dimensional images, spanning 1x1x0.429mm of 10 excised rabbit corneas, were acquired with a bench top µOCT system. The lateral resolution of the system was 2µm over a depth of focus of 300µm and the axial resolution was 1µm in air. The three-dimensional image acquisition time was 13sec. The three-dimensional images were analyzed with a Neurite Tracer to delineate nerves, depicting them as three-dimensional skeletons. Subsequently corneal nerves were stained with fluorescent immunohistochemistry using a tubulin-ß3 antibody. Stained specimens were then digitized using a digital fluorescence confocal microscope and compared to µOCT.


µOCT images showed white lines in the stroma with several, highly reflecting, branched structures running through the different corneal layers and keratocytes. The density and three-dimensional morphology of these highly reflecting branched structures was qualitatively similar to that of nerves seen by immunohistochemistry.


This study provides evidence that µOCT is capable of enabling the visualization of three-dimensional corneal nerves networks. These findings suggest that µOCT could become a helpful tool to detect corneal nerves and study the relationship between systemic diseases and corneal nerve density and morphology. These results, along with the rapid imaging and non-contact features of this technology merit the further investigation of this technique as a potential alternative to confocal microscopy for corneal nerve assessment.

Financial Disclosure:


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