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Exp Eye Res. 1998 Apr;66(4):437-48.

Parasympathetic innervation of the rat cornea.

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Northwest Center for Medical Education, Indiana University School of Medicine, 3400 Broadway, Gary, IN 46408, USA.


The mammalian cornea receives a dense sensory innervation and a modest sympathetic innervation. The purpose of the current study was to determine if the rat cornea is also innervated by parasympathetic nerves. In the first set of experiments, unilateral combined sympathetic and sensory ocular denervations were performed in adult rats by surgical removal of the superior cervical ganglion and intracranial transection of the trigeminal ophthalmomaxillary nerve. Completeness of the denervation procedure was verified postmortem by a variety of macroscopic and immunohistochemical methods. Five to twelve days later, the corneas were serially sectioned tangential to the ocular surface and processed immunohistochemically with antibodies against the pan-neuronal markers, protein gene product 9.5 (PGP-9.5) and peripherin. In every animal a small, but constant, population of corneal and limbal immunoreactive fibers were unaffected by the surgical denervations and were concluded to derive from parasympathetic ganglia. In the second set of experiments, the origins of the rat corneal innervation were determined by applying the neuroanatomical tracer, wheat germ agglutinin-horseradish peroxidase (WGA-HRP) to the central cornea. Two to four days later, the trigeminal, superior cervical, ciliary, accessory ciliary and pterygopalatine ganglia were sectioned and analysed for the presence of HRP-labeled neurons. Examination of the corneal application site and associated ocular tissues revealed no evidence of tracer spread into neighbouring structures. Small numbers (0-6 per animal) of HRP-labeled neurons were observed in the ipsilateral ciliary and accessory ciliary ganglia of most animals. The results of these carefully controlled studies provide strong anatomical evidence of a modest parasympathetic innervation of the rat cornea.

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