Peptidergic innervation of the rat cornea

M. A. Jones, C. F. Marfurt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

76 Scopus citations


Corneal nerves regulate corneal epithelial integrity, proliferation, and wound healing. The mechanisms by which the nerves mediate their effects remain poorly understood; however, the release of biologically active neuropeptides has been hypothesized. The purpose of the current investigation was to determine the relative densities, distribution patterns, and origins of rat corneal nerves containing each of eight different neuropeptides, calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), substance P (SP), galanin (GAL), neuropeptide Y (NPY), methionine-enkephalin (M-ENK), vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP), somatostatin (SOM), and cholecystokinin (CCK). In the first set of experiments, immunohistochemical demonstrations of the above neuropeptides were performed on free-floating corneal sections cut tangential to the corneal surface. The results showed that six of the peptides, CGRP, SP, GAL, NPY, M-ENK, and VIP were present in rat corneal nerves. The innervation patterns of corneal nerves containing each of these six peptides were then documented by mapping all fibers in serial sections from select corneal quadrants onto a series of line drawings by using a drawing tube. In the second set of experiments, the origins of the corneal peptidergic nerve fibers were determined by selective ocular denervations. Unilateral combined sensory and sympathetic ocular denervations or unilateral sympathetic ocular denervations were performed in adult rats by transecting the ophthalmomaxillary nerve and/or removing the superior cervical ganglion. After 5-7 days, each of the ipsilateral corneas was sectioned and processed immunohistochemically for the presence of one of the six peptides found in experiment one, and the fibers that survived the ocular denervations were plotted onto line drawings. Ocular denervations revealed that corneal peptidergic nerves have sensory (CGRP, SP, and GAL), sympathetic (NPY), and parasympathetic (GAL, NPY, M-ENK, and VIP) origins. The results of this investigation have shown that the peptidergic innervation of the rat cornea is more extensive and complex than previously reported. This is the first investigation to show the presence of GAL in the rat cornea, and the first to demonstrate the presence of NPY-, VIP-, and M-ENK-IR nerve fibers in the cornea of any species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-435
Number of pages15
JournalExperimental eye research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1998


  • Calcitonin gene-related peptide
  • Cholecystokinin
  • Corneal innervation
  • Galanin
  • Methionine-enkephalin
  • Neuropeptide Y
  • Neuropeptides
  • Parasympathetic nerves
  • Sensory nerves
  • Somatostatin
  • Substance P
  • Sympathetic nerves
  • Trophism
  • Vasoactive intestinal polypeptide
  • Wound healing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems

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