Unlocking the secrets of blinking, tearing and pain sensation through a project to map the cornea could improve understanding of dry eye disease. Multitasking nerves densely pack the cornea. These nerves mediate pain, blink reflexes and tear production. These are indispensable tasks in the proper maintenance of ocular surface health. The highly innervated cornea is a key area for understanding sensory functions.
COMPLEX NETWORK OF NERVES
That same complexity has made it increasingly difficult to grasp the full nature of how those corneal nerves work, resulting in key knowledge gaps in the field. A University of Houston optometry researcher is set to fill in the gaps, working to map the cornea. This will provide a comprehensive analysis of corneal nerves at the morphologic, molecular and functional level.
“We are developing methods to selectively label the neurons that innervate the cornea. These neurons make up about 1% of the population of neurons located in the trigeminal ganglia, the peripheral nervous system that mediates pain and other sensory functions,” says Anna Matynia, PhD, associate professor at the University of Houston College of Optometry.
$1.4 MILLION GRANT TO MAP THE CORNEA
Dr. Matynia has received $1.4 million from Duke University via the National Eye Institute. She and her team will explore new approaches to disentangle these intricate networks and discover which nerve makes people blink, which creates tears and which nerve tells us our eye is in pain.
Dr. Matynia and her team are using advanced imaging, studying genes and using computers to map the corneal nerves. They are also figuring out which nerves connect directly to the eye and creating a detailed map of how they’re all connected.
“These efforts will provide critical clues for understanding corneal structure-function and will lead to an unprecedented cartography,” says Dr. Matynia. “The advancements from this work will be poised to facilitate a deeper understanding of related pathobiology including neuropathic ocular pain and dry eye disease that will lay the foundation for future translational and clinical research.”