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J Neurophysiol. 2017 May 1;117(5):1935-1947. doi: 10.1152/jn.00925.2016. Epub 2017 Mar 1.

Acute corneal epithelial debridement unmasks the corneal stromal nerve responses to ocular stimulation in rats: implications for abnormal sensations of the eye.

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Department of Ophthalmology, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York; and
Department of Ophthalmology, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York; and.
Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, College of Medicine, University of Illinois-Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.


It is widely accepted that the mechanisms for transducing sensory information reside in the nerve terminals. Occasionally, however, studies have appeared demonstrating that similar mechanisms may exist in the axon to which these terminals are connected. We examined this issue in the cornea, where nerve terminals in the epithelial cell layers are easily accessible for debridement, leaving the underlying stromal (axonal) nerves undisturbed. In isoflurane-anesthetized rats, we recorded extracellularly from single trigeminal ganglion neurons innervating the cornea that are excited by ocular dryness and cooling: low-threshold (<2°C cooling) and high-threshold (>2°C) cold-sensitive plus dry-sensitive neurons playing possible roles in tearing and ocular pain. We found that the responses in both types of neurons to dryness, wetness, and menthol stimuli were effectively abolished by the debridement, indicating that their transduction mechanisms lie in the nerve terminals. However, some responses to the cold, heat, and hyperosmolar stimuli in low-threshold cold-sensitive plus dry-sensitive neurons still remained. Surprisingly, the responses to heat in approximately half of the neurons were augmented after the debridement. We were also able to evoke these residual responses and follow the trajectory of the stromal nerves, which we subsequently confirmed histologically. The residual responses always disappeared when the stromal nerves were cut at the limbus, suggesting that the additional transduction mechanisms for these sensory modalities originated most likely in stromal nerves. The functional significance of these residual and enhanced responses from stromal nerves may be related to the abnormal sensations observed in ocular disease.NEW & NOTEWORTHY In addition to the traditional view that the sensory transduction mechanisms exist in the nerve terminals, we report here that the proximal axons (stromal nerves in the cornea from which these nerve terminals originate) may also be capable of transducing sensory information. We arrived at this conclusion by removing the epithelial cell layers of the cornea in which the nerve terminals reside but leaving the underlying stromal nerves undisturbed.


cornea; debridement; electrophysiology; epithelium; stroma

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