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Eye (Lond). 1999;13 ( Pt 1):83-92.

The development and maintenance of emmetropia.

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Clinical Cataract Research Unit, Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology, Oxford, UK.


The human eye is programmed to achieve emmetropia in youth and to maintain emmetropia with advancing years. This is despite the changes in all eye dimensions during the period of growth and the continuing growth of the lens throughout life. The process of emmetropisation in the child's eye is indicated by a shift from the Gaussian distribution of refractive errors around a hypermetropic mean value at birth to the non-Gaussian leptokurtosis around an emmetropic mean value in the adult. Emmetropisation is the result of both passive and active processes. The passive process is that of proportional enlargement of the eye in the child. The proportional enlargement of the eye reduces the power of the dioptric system in proportion to the increasing axial length. The power of the cornea is reduced by lengthening of the radius of curvature. The power of the lens is reduced by lengthening radii of curvature and the effectivity of the lens is reduced by deepening of the anterior chamber. Ametropia results when these changes are not proportional. The active mechanism involves the feedback of image focus information from the retina and consequent adjustment of the axial length. Defective image formation interferes with this feedback and ametropia then results. Heredity determines the tendency to certain globe proportions and environment plays a part in influencing the action of active emmetropisation. The maintenance of emmetropia in the adult in spite of continuing lens growth with increasing lens thickness and increasing lens curvature, which is known as the lens paradox, is due to the refractive index changes balancing the effect of the increased curvature. These changes may be due to the differences between nucleus and cortex or to gradient changes within the cortex.

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