Historical emphasis on increased intraocular pressure (IOP) in the pathogenesis of glaucoma has been challenged by the recognition that many patients lack abnormally elevated IOP. We employed finite element analysis (FEA) to infer contribution to optic neuropathy from tractional deformation of the optic nerve head (ONH) and lamina cribrosa (LC) by extraocular muscle (EOM) counterforce exerted when optic nerve (ON) redundancy becomes exhausted in adduction. We characterized assumed isotropic Young's modulus of fresh adult bovine ON, ON sheath, and peripapillary and peripheral sclera by tensile elongation in arbitrary orientations of five specimens of each tissue to failure under physiological temperature and humidity. Physical dimensions of the FEA were scaled to human histological and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data and used to predict stress and strain during adduction 6 deg beyond ON straightening at multiple levels of IOP. Young's modulus of ON sheath of 44.6 ± 5.6 MPa (standard error of mean) greatly exceeded that of ON at 5.2 ± 0.4 MPa, peripapillary sclera at 5.5 ± 0.8 MPa, and peripheral sclera at 14.0 ± 2.3 MPa. FEA indicated that adduction induced maximum stress and strain in the temporal ONH. In the temporal LC, the maximum stress was 180 kPa, and the maximum strain was ninefold larger than produced by IOP elevation to 45 mm Hg. The simulation suggests that ON sheath traction by adduction concentrates far greater mechanical stress and strain in the ONH region than does elevated IOP, supporting the novel concept that glaucomatous optic neuropathy may result at least partly from external traction on the ON, rather than exclusively on pressure on the ON exerted from within the eye.

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