Observations on the morphology of the developing primate cornea: Epithelium, its innervation and anterior stroma



A survey is made of some ultrastructural features of the developing cornea of Macaca mulatta. The observations are confined to the anterior central area, starting with the lens vesicle stage and progressing through midgestation, when the morphologic characteristics of the cornea are fully established. Subepithelial filaments and some partially aggregated collagen fibrils are present in the earliest embryo and are of a size and appearance similar to those in the future vitreous cavity. Epithelial secretory activity points to, but does not prove direct contribution to the deposition of the acellular matrix components beneath it. No trace of a structured, orthogonal collagenous stroma can be visualized. The primitive endothelium forms prior to the fibroblast invasion of the distended filamentous matrix. Bowman's layer has undoubted epithelial contributions. Its aggregated collagen fibrils have approximately the same diameter as those of the anterior stroma. Intraepithelial appearance of single nerve fibers and fascicles takes place during the first trimester of gestation, as soon as the two continuous epithelial layers are formed. Terminal areas approach closely to the basal cell's nucleus, without touching it. The plasmalemma of the invaginating nerve fiber is surrounded by that of the epithelial cell in a mesaxon-like manner, with occasional gap junctions uniting adjoining neural and epithelial cell membranes. The fetal neurites contain microtubules, some clear vesicles and dense vacuoles resembling those of mature monamine and non-monamine neurons. Mitochondria are small and compact, their presence indicating a high rate of metabolic activity in the immature terminal area.