Normal anatomy / histology

Author: Deepali Jain, M.D. (see Authors page)

Revised: 23 February 2018, last major update March 2013

Copyright: (c) 2002-2018, PathologyOutlines.com, Inc.

PubMed Search: anatomy [title] histology conjunctiva

Cite this page: Jain, D. Normal anatomy / histology. PathologyOutlines.com website. http://www.pathologyoutlines.com/topic/eyeconjunctivahistology.html. Accessed March 25th, 2018.
Definition / general
  • Thin mucous membrane that lines inner eyelid (tarsal or palpebral portion) and anterior surface of ocular globe (bulbar portion)
  • Has protective function and also allows eyelids to move smoothly over globe
  • Has rich lymphatic channels connecting to parotid and submandibular nodes

  • Bulbar conjunctiva:
    • Covers anterior surface of sclera and surface epithelium of cornea
    • Cuboidal and columnar epithelium
    • Goblet cells more common in inferior and nasal parts, particularly near fornix
    • Substantia propria has loose connective tissue with scattered inflammatory cells and deep dense collagen

  • Caruncle:
    • Small (5 x 3 mm) fleshy nodular prominence in nasal portion of interpalpebral fissure (inner angle of eye) between skin and conjunctiva
    • Lined by conjunctival epithelium and nonkeratinized squamous epithelium
    • Contains cutaneous adnexal structures, accessory lacrimal gland tissue

  • Fornix:
    • Portion of conjunctiva that forms a cul de sac where it reflects onto surface of the globe
    • Pseudostratified columnar epithelium rich in goblet cells (may mimic dysplasia)
    • Contains accessory lacrimal tissue, ductules of main lacrimal gland and lymphoid follicles
    • Site of sarcoid granulomas

  • Limbal conjunctiva:
    • Annular rim of conjunctiva extending from cornea to 3 cm on bulbar surface
    • Contains corneal epithelial stem cells in its basal layers
    • Also branching dendritic melanocytes

  • Palpebral (tarsal) conjunctiva:
    • Lines interior of eyelid
    • Has pseudoglands of Henle (invaginations of surface epithelium that form tubular and cystic structures), hair follicles (Cornea 2006;25:781)
    • Substantia propria is more uniform than in bulbar conjunctiva and is more closely attached to tarsus (so invasive lesions appear clinically flat), has arterioles, veins and complex capillary network, myelinated and nonmyelinated branches of trigeminal nerve, lymphoid aggregates near fornices, acini and ducts of accessory lacrimal glands of Wolfring and Kraus
    • Conjunctiva becomes papillary with allergic or bacterial conjunctivitis

  • Plica semilunaris (semilunar fold):
    • Arc shaped fold of conjunctiva just lateral to caruncle
    • May be vestigial nictitating membrane of lower species
    • Contains abundant goblet cells and rarely cartilage or smooth muscle

  • Regional lymph nodes:
    • Preauricular / parotid (drains temporal lymphatics)
    • Submandibular (drains nasal and caruncle lymphatics)
Microscopic (histologic) description
  • Mucous membrane with epithelium and substantia propria
  • Has 2 - 5 layers of columnar or cuboidal cells resting on continuous basal lamina
  • Epithelial cells may have eosinophilic cytoplasm and apical snouts
  • Also goblet cells that secrete mucin, melanocytes (more prominent in dark skinned patients), Langerhans cells and intraepithelial lymphocytes (conjunctival associated lymphoid tissue, Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 2000;41:1270)
Microscopic (histologic) images

Images hosted on PathOut server:
Missing Image

Stratified nonkeratinizing
squamous epithelium with
goblet cells covers a
vascular lamina propria

Images hosted on other servers:
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Conjunctival goblet cells
(right) facing pigmented
corneal epithelium (left)
near junction
Negative stains