Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide and is characterized by the death of retinal ganglion cells (RGC), the cells that send vision information to the brain. Their axons exit the eye at the optic nerve head (ONH), the main site of damage in glaucoma. The importance of biomechanics in glaucoma is indicated by the fact that elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) is a causative risk factor for the disease. However, exactly how biomechanical insult leads to RGC death is not understood. Although rat models are widely used to study glaucoma, their ONH biomechanics have not been characterized in depth. Therefore, we aimed to do so through finite element (FE) modeling. Utilizing our previously described method, we constructed and analyzed ONH models with individual-specific geometry in which the sclera was modeled as a matrix reinforced with collagen fibers. We developed eight sets of scleral material parameters based on results from our previous inverse FE study, and used them to simulate the effects of elevated IOP in eight model variants of each of seven rat ONHs. Within the optic nerve, highest strains were seen inferiorly, a pattern that was consistent across model geometries and model variants. In addition, changing the collagen fiber direction to be circumferential within the peripapillary sclera resulted in more pronounced decreases in strain than changing scleral stiffness. The results from this study can be used to interpret data from rat glaucoma studies to learn more about how biomechanics affects RGC pathogenesis in glaucoma.

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