The cornea is the transparent part of the eye that allows light to enter into the eye and reach the retina, thereby activating the neurons that will send messages to the brain. The sclera is the hard-white part of the eye, and its main function is to provide structure and form to the eye, and to support the retina. Indeed, while the cornea best performs its main functions when transparent and it is capable of adapting its curvature to allow the eye to focus, the sclera must be opaque and hard to function correctly. Both structures are mainly composed of collagen, some elastic fibres and ground substance, all components of the Extracellular Matrix. The disposition of the collagen fibres and the amount of ground substance around the fibres is responsible for the differences in the aspect of both these structures. In this chapter, for the first time we have compared the structure and ultrastructure of the cornea and sclera in humans and the whale adult (18mts) Balaenoptera physalus, the second largest animal on the planet. We will discuss how the differences in their structure may be related to the maintenance of intraocular pressure in their distinct environments, which is of particular clinical interest as increased intraocular pressure is one of the main causes underlying the development of open angle glaucoma.
Part of the book: Extracellular Matrix