We studied the clinical and microscopic appearances of the optic nerve head in squirrel monkeys with optic nerve degeneration produced by optic nerve transection at the orbital apex. The ophthalmoscopic development of optic disk pallor coincided with the loss of nerve fiber bundles and the rearrangement of the remaining disk astrocytes into dense parallel layers across the nerve head. No astrocytic mitoses were observed and the estimated volume of astrocytes increased only slightly from normal. Among the astrocytes in atrophic disks, many capillaries had patent lumens and ultrastructurally normal endothelial cells. Pallor of the optic disk seems to result from a decrease in the transmission of light into the cytoarchitecture of the atrophic nerve head, not from the absence of capillaries or from extensive astrocytic proliferation.
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