Investigative ophthalmology & visual science

Morphometric stability of the corneal subbasal nerve plexus in healthy individuals: a 3-year longitudinal study using corneal confocal microscopy.

PMID 24764058


We examined the age-dependent alterations and longitudinal course of subbasal nerve plexus (SNP) morphology in healthy individuals. Laser-scanning corneal confocal microscopy, ocular screening, and health and metabolic assessment were performed on 64 healthy participants at baseline and at 12-month intervals for 3 years. At each annual visit, eight central corneal images of the SNP were selected and analyzed using a fully-automated analysis system to quantify corneal nerve fiber length (CNFL). Two linear mixed model approaches were fitted to examine the relationship between age and CNFL, and the longitudinal changes of CNFL over three years. At baseline, mean age was 51.9 ± 14.7 years. The cohort was sex balanced (χ(2) = 0.56, P = 0.45). Age (t = 1.6, P = 0.12) and CNFL (t = -0.50, P = 0.62) did not differ between sexes. A total of 52 participants completed the 36-month visit and 49 participants completed all visits. Age had a significant effect on CNFL (F[1,33] = 5.67, P = 0.02) with a linear decrease of 0.05 mm/mm(2) in CNFL per one year increase in age. No significant change in CNFL was observed over the 36-month period (F[1,55] = 0.69, P = 0.41). The CNFL showed a stable course over a 36-month period in healthy individuals, although there was a slight linear reduction in CNFL with age. The findings of this study have implications for understanding the time-course of the effect of pathology and surgical or therapeutic interventions on the morphology of the SNP, and serves to confirm the suitability of CNFL as a screening/monitoring marker for peripheral neuropathies.