Comparative quantitative study of astrocytes and capillary distribution in optic nerve laminar regions
Balaratnasingam, C.; Kang, M.H.; Yu, P.; Chan, G.; Morgan, W.H.; Cringle, S.J.; Yu, D.-Y.
Experimental Eye Research 121: 11-22
Retinal ganglion cell (RGC) axonal structure and function in the optic nerve head (ONH) is predominantly supported by astrocytes and capillaries. There is good experimental evidence to demonstrate that RGC axons are perturbed in a non-uniform manner following ONH injury and it is likely that the pattern of RGC axonal modification bears some correlation with the quantitative properties of astrocytes and capillaries within laminar compartments. Although there have been some excellent topographic studies concerning glial and microvascular networks in the ONH our knowledge regarding the quantitative properties of these structures are limited. This report is an in-depth quantitative, structural analysis of astrocytes and capillaries in the pre laminar, lamina cribrosa and post laminar compartments of the ONH. 49 optic nerves from human (n = 10), pig (n = 12), horse (n = 6), rat (n = 11) and rabbit (n = 10) eyes are studied. Immunohistochemical and high-magnification confocal microscopy techniques are used to co-localise astrocytes, capillaries and nuclei in the mid-portion of the optic nerve. Quantitative methodology is used to determine the area occupied by astrocyte processes, microglia processes, nuclei density and the area occupied by capillaries in each laminar compartment. Comparisons are made within and between species. Relationships between ONH histomorphometry and astrocyte-capillary constitution are also explored. This study demonstrates that there are significant differences in the quantitative properties of capillaries and astrocytes between the laminar compartments of the human ONH. Astrocyte processes occupied the greatest area in the lamina cribrosa compartment of the human ONH implicating it as an area of great metabolic demands. Microglia were found to occupy only a small proportion of tissue in the rat, rabbit and pig optic nerve suggesting that the astrocyte is the predominant glia cell type in the optic nerve. This study also demonstrates that there is significant uniformity, with respect to astrocyte and capillary constitution, in the post laminar region of species with an unmyelinated anterior optic nerve. This implicates an important role served by oligodendrocytes and myelin in governing the structural characteristics of the post laminar optic nerve. Finally, this study demonstrates that eyes with similar lamina cribrosa structure do not necessarily share an identical cellular constitution with respect to astrocytes. The quantitative properties of astrocytes in the pre laminar and lamina cribrosa regions of the rat, which has a rudimentary lamina cribrosa with only a few collagenous beams, shared more similarities to the human eye than the pig or horse. The quantitative properties of astrocytes and capillaries in the laminar compartments of the ONH provide a basis for understanding the pathogenic mechanisms that are involved in diseases such as glaucoma and ischemic optic neuropathy. The findings in this study also provide valuable information about the distinct advantages of different animal models for studying human optic nerve diseases. Utilisation of structural data provided in this report together with emerging in vivo technology may potentially permit the early identification of RGC axonal injury by quantifying changes in ONH capillaries and astrocytes.