Comparative anatomy of the mammalian corneal subbasal nerve plexus

Carl Marfurt, Miracle C. Anokwute, Kaleigh Fetcko, Erin Mahony-Perez, Hassan Farooq, Emily Ross, Maraya M. Baumanis, Rachel L. Weinberg, Megan E. McCarron, Joseph L. Mankowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


PURPOSE: The subbasal nerve plexus (SNP) is the densest and most recognizable component of the mammalian corneal innervation; however, the anatomical configuration of the SNP in most animal models remains incompletely described. The purpose of the current study is to describe in detail the SNP architecture in eight different mammals, including several popular animal models used in cornea research. METHODS: Corneal nerves in mouse, rat, guinea pig, rabbit, dog, macaque, domestic pig, and cow eyes were stained immunohistochemically with antiserum directed against neurotubulin. SNP architecture was documented by digital photomicrography and large-scale reconstructions, that is, corneal nerve maps, using a drawing tube attached to a light microscope. RESULTS: Subbasal nerve fibers (SNFs) in mice, rats, guinea pigs, dogs, and macaques radiated centrally from the corneoscleral limbus toward the corneal apex in a whorl-like or spiraling pattern. SNFs in rabbit and bovine corneas swept horizontally across the ocular surface in a temporal-to-nasal direction and converged on the inferonasal limbus without forming a spiral. SNFs in the pig cornea radiated centrifugally in all directions, like a starburst, from a focal point located equidistant between the corneal apex and the superior pole. CONCLUSIONS: The results of the present study have demonstrated for the first time substantial interspecies differences in the architectural organization of the mammalian SNP. The physiological significance of these different patterns and the mechanisms that regulate SNP pattern formation in the mammalian cornea remain incompletely understood and warrant additional investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4972-4984
Number of pages13
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number15
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


  • Corneal innervation
  • Corneal nerves
  • Ocular nerves
  • Subbasal nerves
  • Trigeminal nerve

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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