In Vivo Confocal Microscopy Analyses of Corneal Microstructural Changes in a Prospective Study of Collagen Cross-linking in Keratoconus – Corrected Proof

Purpose: To use in vivo confocal microscopy (IVCM) to quantitatively analyze microstructural changes over time, after corneal collagen cross-linking for keratoconus.Design: Prospective cohort study.Participants: A total of 38 eyes of 38 patients undergoing collagen cross-linking for keratoconus.Methods: Prospective, clinical cohort study of corneal collagen cross-linking in progressive keratoconus. Laser scanning IVCM performed preoperatively and at 1, 3, 6, and 12 months postoperatively.Main Outcome Measures: Density of corneal sub-basal nerves, anterior and posterior keratocytes, and corneal endothelium.Results: Compared with baseline values, the mean sub-basal nerve density decreased significantly at 1, 3, and 6 months postoperatively (P < 0.01); however, this returned to preoperative values at 12 months (P = 0.57). One month postoperatively, there was complete absence of keratocyte nuclei in 86% of corneas. Anterior stromal edema with hyper-reflective cytoplasm and extracellular lacunae in a honeycomb-like appearance was observed and persisted at 3 months postoperatively. Scattered, presumed fragmented keratocyte nuclei, were observed at 1 and 3 months, but by 6 months, keratocyte repopulation of the anterior stroma was apparent. Quantitative analysis confirmed a significant decrease in the mean anterior keratocyte density 1, 3, and 6 months postoperatively (P ≤ 0.01) with return to baseline values at 12 months postoperatively (P = 0.57). The demarcation between treated and untreated corneal stroma appeared as a region where normal keratocytes transitioned into elongated, hyper-reflective, needle-like structures and then into large hyper-reflective stromal bands. There was no significant change in posterior keratocyte density or endothelial density at any postoperative time point.Conclusions: This prospective IVCM study revealed complete loss of the sub-basal nerve plexus and loss of anterior stromal keratocytes in the early postoperative period, with complete regeneration of the sub-basal nerve plexus and keratocyte repopulation by 12 months postoperatively. The posterior stroma and corneal endothelium were unaffected.Financial Disclosure(s): The author(s) have no proprietary or commercial interest in any materials discussed in this article.

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