Corneal Neurotization for Neurotrophic Keratopathy: Clinical Outcomes and In Vivo Confocal Microscopic and Histopathological Findings

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Abstract

Purpose:

To describe the long-term outcomes and in vivo confocal microscopic (IVCM) and histopathological findings after corneal neurotization surgery.

Methods:

We included 2 patients who underwent corneal neurotization surgery for severe unilateral neurotrophic keratopathy secondary to cerebellopontine angle meningioma. Corneal sensation was measured using the Cochet–Bonnet esthesiometer (CBE) (0–60 mm). IVCM was performed using the Heidelberg HRT3 Rostock Corneal Module. Histopathological examination was performed on the excised corneoscleral disc of patient 2.

Results:

In patient 1, corneal sensation improved from 0 mm preoperatively to 60 mm in all 4 quadrants by 2 years postoperatively and was maintained at 5 years postoperatively with identifiable subbasal and stromal corneal nerves on IVCM. In patient 2, corneal sensation improved from 0 mm preoperatively to 10 mm in 3 quadrants (9 months postoperatively) but returned to 0 mm in all quadrants by 2 years postoperatively. IVCM failed to identify any subbasal and stromal corneal nerves. At 5 years postoperatively, evisceration was performed to ameliorate uncontrolled and persistent ocular pain and poor cosmesis. Histopathological examination of the excised corneoscleral disc confirmed the presence of normal-sized, central corneal stromal nerve fascicles but without direct continuity with the transplanted perilimbal nerve bundles.

Conclusions:

Our study elucidates the mechanism of corneal neurotization surgery at a cellular level. Although only 1 patient achieved long-term improvement in corneal sensation postoperatively, the findings on IVCM and histopathological examination suggest that partial regeneration/maintenance of corneal nerves after corneal neurotization surgery is likely attributed to the paracrine neurotrophic support, instead of direct sprouting, from the perilimbal transplanted nerve fascicles.

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