Contemporary in vivo confocal microscopy of the living human cornea using white light and laser scanning techniques: a major review


Professor Charles NJ McGhee, Maurice Paykel Chair of Ophthalmology, Department of Ophthalmology, Private Bag 92019, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand. Email:


In vivo confocal imaging of the cornea has evolved exponentially over the last few decades and it has increasingly emerged from the laboratory to be used in the clinical setting in relation to inherited corneal diseases, corneal infections, contact lens wear and the effects of corneal surgery. This evolution has led to significant enhancement of our knowledge of the living cornea in both its physiological and pathological states. A number of in vivo confocal microscope devices using white, and more recently coherent, light sources have been developed to provide non-invasive assessment of the corneal microstructure at a lateral resolution of 1–2 µm. The fundamental principles of in vivo confocal microscopy and the key differences between these devices are highlighted in this review. By providing a systematic review of the extensive literature on the human cornea, this perspective paper aims to provide an overview of how in vivo confocal microscopy has contributed to our greater understanding of the human cornea in health, in disease, and following surgery, with a particular emphasis on quantitative data. The utility and limitations of available data are highlighted as are possibilities for the future development of this innovative technology.