Impact of the environment on the mammalian corneal epithelium.

11 November 2003



To evaluate whether the content of ascorbic acid in the corneal epithelium and aqueous humor reflects seasonal fluctuations in parallel with environmental changes.


Reindeer, cattle, rabbits, and humans were examined, to cover a broad spectrum of overlapping habitats. Ascorbic acid was determined by high-performance liquid chromatography. The thickness of the corneal epithelium was measured, and the number of cells was counted in the tissue sections.


Three groups of reindeer eyes were used, two of them collected during summer, the third group during winter. Ascorbate content did not show seasonal variation in either the corneal epithelium or the aqueous humor, whereas epithelial thickness and number of cells decreased significantly from summer to winter. In cattle, ascorbate content, thickness of the epithelium, and number of cells were lower in animals tended indoors compared with those tended outdoors, whereas ascorbate level in the aqueous humor remained similar in both cases.

The rabbit showed significantly reduced ascorbate content in the corneal epithelium but not in the aqueous humor in tarsorrhaphy-treated eyes. This procedure did not change epithelial thickness, but the number of cells was slightly increased. The mean epithelial thickness in human corneas successively decreased with increasing latitude and decreasing radiation exposure from the summer season in Oslo to the midnight sun, polar night, conditions in Tromsø, 10° far north, although the differences did not reach statistical significance.


Ambient radiation is needed to sustain high ascorbic acid concentration in the corneal epithelium. Corneal epithelial thickness and number of cells are prone to seasonal fluctuations regulated by ambient radiation. In contrast, ascorbate content of the aqueous humor is uninfluenced by environmental change. It is suggested that seasonal adaptation of mammalian corneal epithelium in response to variation in ambient radiation may be nature’s strategy for countering radiation damage to the eye.


Ringvold, A., Anderssen, E. and Kjønniksen, I., 2003. Impact of the environment on the mammalian corneal epithelium. Investigative ophthalmology & visual science, 44(1), pp.10-15.

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Category: Photonics & Optoelectronics

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