Glaucoma is among the leading causes of blindness worldwide that is characterized by irreversible damage to the retinal ganglion cell axons in the lamina cribrosa (LC) region of the optic nerve head (ONH), most often associated with elevated intraocular pressure (IOP). The LC is a porous, connective tissue structure that provides mechanical support to the axons as they exit the eye and the biomechanics of the LC microstructure likely play a crucial role in protecting the axons passing through it. There is a limited knowledge of the IOP-driven biomechanics of the LC microstructure, primarily due to its small size and the difficulty with imaging the LC both in vitro and in vivo. We present finite element (FE) models of three human eye posterior poles that include the LC microstructure and interspersed neural tissues (NT) composed of retinal axons that are constructed directly from segmented, binary images of the LC. These models were used to estimate the stresses and strains in the LC and NT for an acute IOP elevation from 0 to 45 mmHg and compared with identical models except that the LC was represented as a homogenized continuum material with either homogeneous isotropic neo-Hookean properties or heterogeneous properties derived from local connective tissue volume fraction (CTVF) and predominant LC beam orientation. Stresses and strains in the LC and NT microstructure were investigated, and results were compared against those from the models wherein the LC was represented as a homogenized continuum. The regionalized volumetric average stresses and strains showed that the microstructural model yielded similar patterns to our prior approach using an LC continuum representation with mapped LC CTVF/anisotropy, but the microstructural modeling approach allows analysis of the stresses and strains in the LC and NT separately. As expected, the LC beams carried most of the IOP load in the microstructural models but exhibited less strain, while the encapsulated NT exhibited lower stresses and much higher strains. Results also revealed that the continuum models underestimate the maximum strains in the LC beams and NT by a factor of 2-3. Microstructural modeling should provide greater insight into the biomechanical factors driving damage to the axons (NT) and LC connective tissue remodeling that occur in glaucoma. The methods presented are ideal for modeling any structure with a complex microstructure composed of different materials, such as trabecular bone, lung, and tissue engineering scaffolds such as decellularized LC. Matlab code for mesh generation from a segmented image stack of the microstructure is included as Supplemental Material.
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