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Acta Ophthalmol Scand. 2006 Aug;84(4):516-21.

Donor corneas for transplantation: a scanning electron microscopic study of the epithelium.

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Center for Eye Research, Department of Ophthalmology, Ullevaal University Hospital, Oslo, Norway.



Donor corneas are processed in eye banks and used for transplantation as a standard routine. The maximum time limit post-mortem for harvesting donor tissue varies greatly between eye banks. This study aimed to examine the corneal epithelium for structural changes post-mortem.


A total of 51 corneas harvested between 14 and 163 hours post-mortem were examined using scanning electron and light microscopy.


Cell loss occurred through desquamation of flat superficial cells during the first days. In corneas with a post-mortem time of more than 2-3 days, large superficial cell sheets and deeper cells detached, starting centrally. Deep peripheral cells remained. The loss of the superficial cells revealed the 3-dimensional structure of the epithelium and the membrane characteristics of deeper cells.


The longer the time post-mortem, the greater the epithelial cell loss. However, a rim of peripheral cells remained, even after 7 days. The superficial cell layer showed signs of strong lateral attachment and broke up in a sheet-like fashion. The intercellular adhesion between deeper cells and adhesion between the basal cells and the basement membrane appeared to be weak post-mortem. The cell membrane structures of the remaining cells were surprisingly well retained. The clinical implication of the study is discussed.

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