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PLoS One. 2013 Dec 9;8(12):e81435. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0081435. eCollection 2013.

Confocal comparison of corneal reinnervation after small incision lenticule extraction (SMILE) and femtosecond laser in situ keratomileusis (FS-LASIK).

Author information

Key Lab of Myopia, Ministry of Health, Department of Ophthalmology, EYE & ENT Hospital of Fudan University, Shanghai, China.
Department of Ophthalmology, Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York, United States of America.
Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, United States of America.
Department of Biostatistics, School of Public Health, Fudan University, Shanghai, China.



To evaluate corneal reinnervation, and the corresponding corneal sensitivity and keratocyte density after small incision lenticule extraction (SMILE) and femtosecond laser in situ keratomileusis (FS-LASIK).


In this prospective, non-randomized observational study, 18 patients (32 eyes) received SMILE surgery, and 22 patients (42 eyes) received FS-LASIK surgery to correct myopia. The corneal subbasal nerve density and microscopic morphological changes in corneal architecture were evaluated by confocal microscopy prior to surgery and at 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, and 6 months after surgery. A correlation analysis was performed between subbasal corneal nerve density and the corresponding keratocyte density and corneal sensitivity.


The decrease in subbasal nerve density was less severe in SMILE-treated eyes than in FS-LASIK-treated eyes at 1 week (P = 0.0147), 1 month (P = 0.0243), and 3 months (P = 0.0498), but no difference was detected at the 6-month visit (P = 0.5277). The subbasal nerve density correlated positively with central corneal sensitivity in both groups (r = 0.416, P<0.0001, and r = 0.2567, P = 0.0038 for SMILE group and FS-LASIK group, respectively). The SMILE-treated eyes have a lower risk of developing peripheral empty space with epithelial cells filling in (P = 0.0005).


The decrease in subbasal nerve fiber density was less severe in the SMILE group than the FS-LASIK group in the first 3 months following the surgeries. The subbasal nerve density was correlated with central corneal sensitivity.

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