In this study we wish to augment our understanding of the effect of environment on corneal growth and morphology. To understand how corneal development of chicks raised in constant light differs from that of ‘normal’ eyes exposed to cyclic periods of light and dark, white Leghorn chicks were raised under either constant light (approximately 700 lux at cage top) or in 12 h light/12 h dark conditions for up to 12 weeks after hatching. To determine whether corneal expansion is uniform, some birds from each group received corneal tattoos for periodic photographic assessment. By 16 days of age, constant light corneas weighed less than light/dark regimen corneas [7.39 ± 0.35 mg (SE) vs. 8.47 mg ± 0.26 mg SE wet weight, P ≤ 0.05], and corresponding differences were seen in corneal dry weights. Spatial expansion of the corneal surface was uniform in both groups, but the rate of expansion was slower in constant light chicks [0.0327 ± 0.009 (SE) vs. 0.144 ± 0.018 (SE) mm2 day−1 for normal chicks, P ≤ 0.001]. At 1 day of age, there were 422 ± 12.5 (SE) stromal cells 0.01 mm−2 in the central cornea and 393 ± 21.5 (SE) stromal cells 0.01 mm−2peripherally. Although this difference is not statistically significant, the cell densities in the central cornea were always larger than those of the peripheral cornea in all eight measurements over a 10.5-week period, and this difference is significant (P ≤ 0.008, binomial test). Light/dark regimen birds show no such consistent difference in cell densities between central and peripheral corneas. Thus, the density distribution of corneal stromal cells of chicks grown in constant light differs from that of normal chicks. Taken together, all these observations suggest that diurnal cycles of light and darkness are necessary for normal corneal growth
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