Millions of people suffer from diseases that involve corneal nerve dysfunction, caused by various conditions, including dry eye syndrome, neurotrophic keratopathy, diabetes, herpes simplex, glaucoma, and Alzheimer’s disease. The morphology of corneal nerves has been studied extensively. However, corneal nerve function has only been studied in a limited fashion owing to a lack of tools. Here, we present a new system for studying corneal nerve function.
Optical imaging was performed on the cornea of excised murine globes taken from a model animal expressing a genetically encoded calcium indicator, GCaMP6f, to record calcium transients. A custom perfusion and imaging chamber for ex vivo murine globes was designed to maintain and stabilize the cornea, while allowing the introduction of chemical stimulation during imaging.
Imaging of calcium signals in the ex vivo murine cornea was demonstrated. Strong calcium signals with minimal photobleaching were observed in experiments lasting up to 10 minutes. Concentrated potassium and lidocaine solutions both modulated corneal nerve activity. Similar responses were observed in the same neurons across multiple chemical stimulations, suggesting the feasibility of using chemical stimulations to test the response of the corneal nerves.
Our studies suggest that this tool will be of great use for studying functional changes to corneal nerves in response to disease and ocular procedures. This process will enable preclinical testing of new ocular procedures to minimize damage to corneal innervation and therapies for diminished neural function.