The origin of extrinsic nitrergic axons supplying the human eye

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Nitrergic nerve fibres of intrinsic and extrinsic origin constitute an important component of the autonomic innervation in the human eye. The intrinsic source of nitrergic nerves are the ganglion cells in choroid and ciliary muscle. In order to obtain more information on the origin of extrinsic nitrergic nerves in the human eye, we obtained superior cervical, ciliary, pterygopalatine and trigeminal ganglia from six human donors, and stained them for neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate-diaphorase (NADPH-D). In the superior cervical ganglia, nNOS/NADPH-D-positive varicose axons were observed whereas perikarya were consistently negative. Fewer than 1% of perikarya in the ciliary ganglia were labelled for nNOS/NADPH-D. The diameter of nNOS/NADPH-D-positive ciliary perikarya was between 8 and 10 μm, which was markedly smaller than the diameter of the vast majority of negative perikarya in the ciliary ganglion. More than 70% of perikarya in the pterygopalatine ganglia were intensely labelled for both nNOS and NADPH-D. In trigeminal ganglia, 18% of perikarya were nNOS/NADPH-D-positive. The average diameter of trigeminal nNOS/NADPH-D perikarya was between 25 and 45 μm. Pterygopalatine and trigeminal ganglia are the most likely sources for extrinsic nerve fibres to the human eye.

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