November 20, 2020

The insulation around nerve cell components in our corneas have unique properties, and little is known about them. A material known as myelin insulates axons of nerve fibers and enhances transmission of impulses among neurons. But nature has made the cornea an exception. Myelin in the cornea would interfere with light transmission. Therefore, the non-myelinating corneal Schwann cells, aptly called so because they do not produce myelin, are adapted to maintain corneal transparency, optimizing the focus of light on the retina, a crucial element of our vision.

In a paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience Research, lead author Paola Bargagna-Mohan, assistant professor of neuroscience at University of Connecticut, details a method of characterizing every cell in the cornea using an approach known as single-cell RNA sequence analysis to answer questions about the cornea’s healing process. 

Mohan says this method already has uncovered unique genes that are not expressed in Schwann cells of other tissues, which may eventually solve the mystery of how corneal Schwann cells function without interfering with light transmission.