OBJECTIVE: To determine the density of the canine and feline corneal neural network in healthy dogs and cats using in vivo confocal microscopy (IVCM). ANIMALS EXAMINED: A total of 16 adult dogs (9 Mesocephalic breeds, 7 Brachycephalic breeds) and 15 cats (9 Domestic Short-haired cats (DSH), 6 Persian cats) underwent IVCM. PROCEDURE: Animals were examined with a confocal corneal microscope (HRTII/RCM; Heidelberg Retina Tomograph II/Rostock Cornea Module, Heidelberg Engineering, Dossenheim, Germany). The investigations focused on the distribution of the corneal nerves and quantification of central subepithelial and subbasal nerve plexus. RESULTS: The corneal stromal nerve trunks, subepithelial and subbasal nerve plexus were observed. The nerve fiber density (NFD) quantified in nerve fiber length in mesocephalic dogs were 12.39 +/- 5.25 mm/mm(2) in the subepithelial nerve plexus and 14.87 +/- 3.08 mm/mm(2) in the subbasal nerve plexus. The NFD of the subepithelial nerve plexus in DSH cats was 15.49 +/- 2.7 and 18.4 +/- 3.84 mm/mm(2) in the subbasal nerve plexus. The subbasal NFD of DSH cats was significantly higher than in mesocephalic dogs (P = 0.037). The subepithelial NFD in brachycephalic dogs, and Persian cats were 10.34 +/- 4.71 and 9.50 +/- 2.3 mm/mm(2), respectively. The subbasal NFD measured 11.80 +/- 3.73 mm/mm(2) in brachycephalic dogs, and 12.28 +/- 4.3 mm/mm(2) NFD in Persian cats, respectively. The subepithelial and subbasal NFD in Persian cats were significantly lower than in DSH cats (P = 0.028, respectively, P = 0.031), in contrast to brachycephalic vs. mesocephalic dogs. CONCLUSION: The noninvasive IVCM accurately detects corneal innervation and provides a reliable quantification of central corneal nerves.
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