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N D Clarke, J A Bee; Innervation of the chick cornea analyzed in vitro.. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 1996;37(9):1761-1771.
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PURPOSE: During the early stages (embryonic day 3 [E3]) of avian corneal development, nerve fibers extend from the trigeminal ganglion to the corneal limbus. On E11, these nerve fibers enter the cornea and extend through the secondary stroma to begin innervation of the epithelium on E13. This process of innervation is concomitant with the cornea's dehydration and transition from opacity to transparency; thus, suggesting a link between innervation and the attainment of corneal function. This investigation attempts to ascertain whether the developing cornea can support its innervation in vitro and whether there is a possible developmental interrelationship between corneal innervation and dehydration, with the associated transition from opacity to transparency. METHODS: Isolated corneas from either E8 or E14 chicks were co-cultured with E8 dorsal root ganglia. After 4 days of culture, innervation was visualized by silver staining and immunohistochemistry. Changes in corneal composition and organization associated with this innervation in vitro were analyzed by measuring changes in specific hydration, thickness and compaction, and incorporation of [35S]sulfate into glycosaminoglycans during co-culture. RESULTS: The E8 and E14 corneas support extensive innervation in vitro. Developing nerve fibers extend through the secondary stroma to innervate the epithelium. In vitro innervation of E8, but not E14, corneas was associated with a decrease in corneal specific hydration, whereas control corneas (without dorsal root ganglia) failed to show any such changes. E8 corneas also showed a significant increase in compaction when innervated in vitro. Corneal innervation in vitro did not significantly change the overall incorporation of [35S]sulfate into glycosaminoglycans. Furthermore, incorporation of [35S]sulfate into corneal sulfated glycosaminoglycans (sGAG) is not influenced by either the number of nerve fibers innervating the cornea or nerve growth factor (NGF). In addition, the distribution of staining of the corneal glycosaminoglycans, chondroitin sulfate and keratan sulfate, and peanut agglutinin-binding epitopes, suggests that these molecules are not associated with inhibition of axonal development. CONCLUSIONS: The in vitro system described here is a useful model to understand the process of corneal development. Co-culture has shown that corneal innervation promotes the process of dehydration, which is dependent on the age of the cornea. However, other functionally related refinements necessary for transparency-notably proteoglycan synthesis-may not be linked to innervation or NGF production. The authors conclude that the development of transparency is dependent on corneal innervation, though not exclusively, and that other controlling factors also are required.
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