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D L Van Horn, W H Schutten, R A Hyndiuk, P Kurz; Xerophthalmia in vitamin A-deficient rabbits. Clinical and ultrastructural alterations in the cornea.. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 1980;19(9):1067-1079. doi: https://doi.org/.
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Xerophthalmia developed in the eyes of rabbits maintained on a vitamin A-deficient diet for 4 to 6 months. The earliest clinical change, a lusterless graying of the central corneal epithelium, was noted after 16 to 18 weeks on the diet. Multiple small punctate epithelial erosions appeared in the interpalpebral fissure zone within 7 to 10 days after the lusterless graying became evident. The erosions gradually became confluent, and a striking dry, glazed, peau d'orange appearance was noted. Polycystic microbullae appeared in the epithelium in some eyes. Thick keratinized epithelial plaques developed in all eyes 1 to 2 weeks after the appearance of severe peau d'orange. Electron microscopy of corneas with lusterless graying of the epithelium revealed swelling of the most superficial epithelial cells with flattened and shorter microvillous projections. In corneas with punctate epithelial erosions and keratinized plaques, microvilli were absent or decreased in number on superficial cells, and multilayered, keratinized epithelial cells were present on the surface of the cornea. The stroma appeared essentially normal with minimal edema at all stages when examined by electron microscopy. Intercellular edema was present in the endothelium in early- and late-stage xerotic corneas but could not be detected clinically. No significant clinical or microscopic alterations were seen in the corneas of control rabbits on normal diet or in rabbits on the vitamin A-deficient diet supplemented with vitamin A. The alterations seen in the corneas of vitamin A-deficient rabbits are similar to those which have been described in vitamin A-deficient humans. Rabbit therefore appears to be a good model for further studies of xerophthalmia.
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