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Keywords:

  • corneal vascularization;
  • Florida manatee;
  • three-dimensional reconstruction

Abstract

The cornea of the Florida manatee is unique and unusual in its anatomy in that blood vessels have been found throughout. In all other animal species, this is considered a pathological condition impeding vision, and is usually caused by injury or trauma. The purpose of this study was to more clearly describe corneal vascularization by examining the architecture through three-dimensional reconstruction in order to find possible patterns in size, distribution, and location of blood vessels relative to gender, age, location, and season. Twenty-six eyes from 22 individuals were prepared for histologic examination and subsequent three-dimensional reconstruction. Every specimen examined had blood vessels in the cornea, comprising an average of 0.3% of total surface density (volume) of the cornea. No differences were found between individuals based on gender, age, and season. Environmental influences were not a significant factor either, which was not originally anticipated. The presence of vessels at the level of the anterior epithelium was surprising and it appeared that the vascularization was directed more anteriorly than was originally thought. The presence of blood vessels in a prenatal eye was also found. In all the eyes examined, no signs of injury or trauma could be observed. The presence of blood vessels appears to minimally impair vision based on their low density, size, and location. The association of vessels with the anterior epithelium and development of vessels within the fetus point to an evolutionary adaptation possibly due to the manatee's unique ability to move between water bodies.