Observations on the ultrastructure of equatorial scleral collagen fibrils in sheep eyes

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Abstract

Objective

To investigate collagen fibrils of the equatorial sclera in relation to the age-related changes in eye size in sheep.

Animals studied

Lambs and outbred ewes.

Procedures

Sheep eyes (three lamb and three from adult outbred ewes), presumed disease-free, were processed for transmission electron microscopy (TEM) immediately postmortem. Tissue blocks from the equatorial region were sectioned across fibril bundles orientated along the equator. Micrographs including at least 500 fibrils were projected at 22 000× magnification for measures of fibril diameters (FDs).

Results

Lamb eyes were smaller than those of adult ewes but equatorial scleral thickness was only marginally less at 0.232 ± 0.013 vs. 0.254 ± 0.012 mm (P value not significant). Scleral tissue was composed of compacted bundles of collagen fibers that tended to be rounder in outer compared to being flatter in inner regions. In typical (normal) appearing regions, FDs were distinctly larger (68–410 nm) in outer sclera compared to inner sclera (63–281 nm). Outer sclera FDs were bimodal averaging 192 ± 58 nm, compared to unimodal distributions at inner locations averaging 156 ± 48 nm (P < 0.001). Some atypical regions, especially at outer-mid sclera locations, were also noted where the FD distribution was bimodal but also included numerous microfibrils (<50 nm diameter), with similar appearances being found for both lamb and adult ewe eyes.

Conclusions

The equatorial sclera is a mixture of rounder versus flatter collagen fiber bundles, the former being more likely to be made up of a mixture of both smaller and larger fibrils, as compared to slightly smaller fibrils.

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