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      Scleral structure, organisation and disease. A review

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      Experimental Eye Research

      Elsevier BV

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          Abstract

          Although disease of the sclera is unusual, when it occurs it can rapidly destroy both the eye and vision. However, normally the sclera provides an opaque protective coat for the intraocular tissues and a stable support during variations in internal pressure and eye movements, which would otherwise perturb the visual process through distortion of the retina and the lens/iris diaphragm. This stability, which is vital for clear vision is made possible by the organisation and viscoelastic properties of scleral connective tissue. Microscopically, the sclera displays distinct concentric layers including, from outside, Tenon's capsule, episclera, the scleral stroma proper and lamina fusca, melding into underlying choroid. Two sites exhibit specialised structure and function: the perilimbal trabecular meshwork, through which aqueous filters into Schlemm's canal, and the lamina cribrosa, which permits axons of the optic nerve to exit the posterior sclera. Throughout, sclera is densely collagenous, the stroma consisting of fibrils with various diameters combining into either interlacing fibre bundles or defined lamellae in outer zones. Scleral fibrils are heterotypic structures made of collagen types I and III, with small amounts of types V and VI also present. Scleral elastic fibres are especially abundant in lamina fusca and trabecular meshwork. The interfibrillar matrix is occupied by small leucine-rich proteoglycans, decorin and biglycan, containing dermatan and dermatan/chondroitin sulphate glycosaminoglycans, together with the large proteoglycan, aggrecan, which also carries keratan sulphate sidechains. Decorin is closely associated with the collagen fibrils at specific binding sites situated close to the C-terminus of the collagen molecules. Proteoglycans influence hydration, solute diffusion and fluid movement through the sclera, both from the uvea and via the trabecular meshwork. As the sclera is avascular, nutrients come from the choroid and vascular plexi in Tenon's capsule and episclera, where there is an artery to artery anastomosis in which blood oscillates, rather than flows rapidly. This predisposes to the development of vasculitis causing a spectrum of inflammatory conditions of varying intensity which, in the most severe form, necrotising scleritis, may destroy all of the structural and cellular components of the sclera. Scleral cells become fibroblastic and the stroma is infiltrated with inflammatory cells dominated by macrophages and T-lymphocytes. This process resembles, and may be concurrent with, systemic disease affecting other connective tissues, particularly the synovial joints in rheumatoid arthritis. Current views support an autoimmune aetiology for scleritis. Whilst the role of immune complexes and the nature of initial pro-inflammatory antigen(s) remain unknown, the latter may reside in scleral tissue components which are released or modified by viral infection, injury or surgical trauma.

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          Author and article information

          Journal
          Experimental Eye Research
          Experimental Eye Research
          Elsevier BV
          00144835
          March 2004
          March 2004
          : 78
          : 3
          : 609-623
          Article
          10.1016/S0014-4835(03)00212-4
          15106941
          © 2004

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