|Artery||lacrimal artery, anterior ciliary arteries|
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The conjunctiva is a tissue that lines the inside of the eyelids and covers the sclera (the white of the eye). It is composed of non-keratinized, stratified squamous epithelium with goblet cells, stratified columnar epithelium and stratified cuboidal epithelium (depending on the zone). The conjunctiva is highly vascularised, with many microvessels easily accessible for imaging studies.
The conjunctiva is typically divided into three parts:
|Palpebral or tarsal conjunctiva||Lines the eyelids|
|Bulbar or ocular conjunctiva||Covers the eyeball, over the anterior sclera: This region of the conjunctiva is tightly bound to the underlying sclera by Tenon's capsule and moves with the eyeball movements. The average thickness of the bulbar conjunctival membrane is 33 microns.|
|Fornix conjunctiva||Forms the junction between the bulbar and palpebral conjunctivas: It is loose and flexible, allowing the free movement of the lids and eyeball.|
Blood to the bulbar conjunctiva is primarily derived from the ophthalmic artery. The blood supply to the palpebral conjunctiva (the eyelid) is derived from the external carotid artery. However, the circulations of the bulbar conjunctiva and palpebral conjunctiva are linked, so both bulbar conjunctival and palpebral conjunctival vessels are supplied by both the ophthalmic artery and the external carotid artery, to varying extents.
Sensory innervation of the conjunctiva is divided into four parts:
|Lateral||Lacrimal nerve (with contribution from zygomaticofacial nerve)|
|Circumcorneal||Long ciliary nerves|
The conjunctiva consists of unkeratinized, both stratified squamous and stratified columnar epithelium, with interspersed goblet cells. The epithelial layer contains blood vessels, fibrous tissue, and lymphatic channels. Accessory lacrimal glands in the conjunctiva constantly produce the aqueous portion of tears. Additional cells present in the conjunctival epithelium include melanocytes, T and B cell lymphocytes.
The conjunctiva helps lubricate the eye by producing mucus and tears, although a smaller volume of tears than the lacrimal gland. It also contributes to immune surveillance and helps to prevent the entrance of microbes into the eye.
Disorders of the conjunctiva and cornea are common sources of eye complaints, in particular because the surface of the eye is exposed to various external influences and is especially susceptible to trauma, infections, chemical irritation, allergic reactions, and dryness.
The bulbar conjunctival microvasculature contains arterioles, meta-arterioles, venules, capillaries, and communicating vessels. Vessel morphology varies greatly between subjects and even between regions of the individual eyes. In some subjects, arterioles and venules can be seen to run parallel with each other. Paired arterioles are generally smaller than corresponding venules. The average bulbar conjunctival vessel has been reported to be 15.1 microns, which reflects the high number of small capillaries, which are typically <10 microns in diameter.
The bulbar conjunctival microvasculature is in close proximity to ambient air, thus oxygen diffusion from ambient air strongly influences their blood oxygen saturation. Because of oxygen diffusion, hypoxic bulbar conjunctival vessels will rapidly reoxygenate (in under 10 seconds) when exposed to ambient air (i.e. when the eyelid is open). Closing the eyelid stops this oxygen diffusion by placing a barrier between the bulbar conjunctival microvessels and ambient air.
The bulbar conjunctival microvessels are typically imaged with a high-magnification slit lamp with green filters. With such high-magnification imaging systems, it is possible to see groups of individual red blood cells flowing in vivo. Fundus cameras may also be used for low-magnification wide field-of-view imaging of the bulbar conjunctival microvasculature. Modified fundus cameras have been used to measure conjunctival blood flow  and to measure blood oxygen saturation. Fluorescein angiography has been used to study the blood flow of the bulbar conjunctiva and to differentiate the bulbar conjunctival and episcleral microcirculation.
The bulbar conjunctival microvasculature is known to dilate in response to several stimuli and external conditions, including allergens (e.g. pollen), temperature, time-of-day, contact-lens wear, and acute mild hypoxia. Bulbar conjunctival vasodilation has also been shown to correlate changes in emotional state.
Sagittal section through the upper eyelid.
Extrinsic eye muscle. Nerves of orbita. Deep dissection.