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Scientific Anatomy

Lecture Notes on Vision & the Eye
Special Senses

What are special senses?:
touch & pressure: proprioreceptors and sensory nerves ( hot, cold, pain, pres-
smell: olfactory cells in the nose & olfactory portion of cerebral cortex
taste: taste buds in the tongue (sweet, sour, bitter & salty)
hearing & balance: structures of the middle and inner ear
sight: the eye and visual cortex

The Eye and vision
The eye is a specialized organ that receives light rays which are refracted (bent) on to
photoreceptive cells called rods and cones. These cells transmit nerve impulses
through the optic nerve and optic tract to the visual cortex in the occipital lobe. It is in
the visual cortex that interpretation of the light image takes place. The rods and cones
of our eyes can respond to 1 billion different stimuli per second. Further more these
cells are sensitive to about 10 million gradations of light intensity and 7 million different
hues and shades of color.
Human eyes are anteriorly positioned on the skull and are set far enough apart to
achieve binocular or stereoscopic vision. This 3-D perspective gives us depth per-
ception. Our eyes are responsible for about 80% of the information we assimilate. The
binocular forward position of our eyes is characteristic of predatory ( hunting) animals.
Animals that are prey species and grazers have eyes that are positioned laterally on
their heads to allow panoramic vision. This allows them to scan for predators on the ho-
rizon while grazing.
Birds of prey have very specialized vision that allows them to detect the movements of
very small animals from great distances in the sky. Animals such as owls and cats have
very well developed night vision, which allows them to see well in the dark.

Function of the eyeball:

1) transmission of light rays through the transparent media of the eyeball
2) refraction of light
3) accommodation of the lens to focus the light rays
4) constriction of the pupil by the iris to regulate the amount of light enter-
ing the vitreous humor
5) convergence of the eyeballs so that visual acuity is maintained
Scientific Anatomy

Structures of the eye

Accessory structures of the eye:
orbit: bony depression in the skull that holds the eyeball
eyebrows: the short hairs on the brow ridges that shade the eyes from light and
prevent perspiration of particles from falling into the eyes.
eyelids: eyelids protect the eyes from the sun and from drying out. The blinking
helps move fluid across the surface of the eyeball and coat it with protective
eyelashes: shade the eyes and prevent particles from falling into the eyes.
conjunctiva: a thin mucous secreting membrane that lines the inner surface of
each eyelid and covers the eye where it forms a transparent layer.

Primary Structures:

Fibrous tunic: outer layer of the eye. Consists of 2 regions:
Sclera: white of the eye
Cornea: transparent refractive layer below.
Vascular tunic ( uvea): consists of 2 layers
choroid :vascular layer that lines the internal surface of the sclera
iris: the colored portion of the eye. It is the anterior portion of the vascular
tunic and is continuous with the choroid. The contraction of smooth
sphincter muscles surrounding the opening in the iris called the pupil
causes constriction of the pupil and diminishes the amount of light enter-
ing the pupil. This is a reaction to bright light. Contraction of the pupillary
dilator muscle enlarges the pupil and allows more light into the eye. Eye
color is determined by the amount of melanin on the surface of the iris.
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cilliary body:
Lens: is a transparent structure consisting of onion-like layers of protein.
The shape of the lens determines the degree to which light rays that as
through will be refracted. Contraction of the cilliary muscles relaxes the
suspensory ligament and makes the lens more spherical. A flat lens per-
mits focusing on distant objects. a spherical lens permits viewing close up
objects. Variations is ability to focus ( far sightedness, near sightedness)
are due to shape differences of the lens. Increased age causes the lens to
become less flexible in its ability to change shape (accommodation). This
leads to the need to use reading glasses to see things up close. Vision
problems can change
Internal Tunic
Retina: covers the choroid as the inner most layer of the eye. It consists of
an outer pigmented layer in contact with the choroid and an inner nervous
layer or visual portion. The nervous layer of the retina and the pigmented
layer are not attached to each other. except where they surround the optic
Because these layers are not attached , the two layers may become
separated as a detached retina. This can be corrected surgically by fus-
ing the layers with a laser. The nervous part of the retina is composed of
3 layers. In the order of which they conduct impulses they are the Rod
and Cone Cells are the photoreceptors. Rod cells are slender and num-
ber around 100 million per eye. They are positioned on the peripheral
parts of the retina and respond to dim light for black and white vision.
They also respond to form and movement but provide poor acuity. Cone
cells which number about 7 million per eye provide daylight color vision
and greater visual acuity. Cone cells are concentrated in a depression
near the center of the retina called the fovea centralis. Surrounding the
fovea centralis is the macula lutea which also has an abundance of cone
cells. There are no photoreceptors in the area where the optic nerve is at-
tached to the eyeball. This area is known as the blind spot and also re-
ferred to as the optic disc.
A person is normally unaware of the blind spot because the eyes continu-
ally move around and objects are viewed from different angles with each
eye. Also the image of an object that falls on the blind spot of one eye will
fall on the receptors of the other eye. The optic disc/blind spot can be
seen on an examination of the eye with an opthalmoscope.
The photoreceptors synapse with the bipolar neurons, which in turn syn-
apse with the ganglion neurons. The axons of the ganglion neurons
leave the eye as the optic nerve.
Optic nerve: this is the main nerve responsible for transmitting images to
the brain. It is an extension of the axons of the ganglion neurons.
Blood supply: Both the choroid and the retina are highly vascular. The
primary artery is the central artery and the primary vein is the central vein.
Both of these pass through the optic disc as they enter and exit the eye.
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Cavities and chambers of the eye
The interior of the eye is separated by the lens and its associated lens capsule
into an anterior cavity and a posterior cavity. The anterior cavity is further
subdivided by the iris into an anterior chamber and a posterior chamber.
Anterior chamber is located between the cornea and the iris
Posterior chamber is located between the iris and the suspensory liga-
ment and lens
Aqueous humor: This is the fluid that fills the anterior and posterior
chambers. It provides nutrients and oxygen to the avascular lens and
cornea. It also maintains a constant intraocular pressure within the ante-
rior and posterior chambers. It is secreted by the vascular epithelium of
the ciliary body and the eye produces about 5.5 ml a day. It drains from
the eyeball into the sceral venous sinus into the blood stream
The posterior cavity is filled with a transparent jelly called the vitreous humor.
It also contributes to intraocular pressure, maintains its shape of the eyeball and
holds the retina against the choroid. Unlike aqueous humor it is not continuously
produced. It is formed prenatally. Additional vitreous humor is formed as a person
grows to accommodate the growth of the eye.
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Lacrimal apparatus:
This consists of the lacrimal gland (tear gland) and the lacrimal duct.
Lacrimal fluid (tears) is a lubricating mucous secretion that contains salts and a
bactericidal substance called lysozyme. This reduces the likelihood of infections.
The lacrimal gland produces about 1 ml of fluid each day. If something gets in the
eye larger quantities are produced to flush out the irritant by diluting and washing
it out.
The lacrimal glands also respond to emotional distress. This is a result of para-
sympathetic stimulation of facial nerves. Humans are one of the few animals that
cry as a response to distress or sadness.
extrinsic eye muscles: the movements of the eyeball are controlled by 6 ex-
trinsic ocular muscles. Four recti muscles move the eyeball in the direction of its
Scientific Anatomy

name (superior, inferior, lateral, medial). Two oblique muscles ( superior and in-
ferior) rotate the eyeball on its axis.

Transmission of Light
Light entering the eyeball passes through 4 transparent media before stimulating the
photoreceptors which are found on the surface of the retina. The sequence is this: cor-
nea > aqueous humor > lens > vitreous humor.
The lens and cornea are avascular and made of solid protein fibers. The aqueous hu-
mor is a low viscosity fluid and the vitreous humor is jelly-like.
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Refraction of light
Refraction is the bending of light rays. It occurs as light rays pass at an oblique angle
from a medium of one optical density to a medium of a different optical density. The
convex cornea is the principal refractive medium; the aqueous and vitreous humors
produce minimal refraction. The lens is most important for refining and altering refrac-
tion. Of the refractive media in the eye only the lens can be altered in shape to get pre-
cise refraction. As with a camera lens the image is formed upside down on the retina.
Photoreceptors on the retina transmit the image to nerve cells which send impulses.
Nerve impulses of the image in this position are relayed to the visual cortex where the
inverted image is interpreted as right side up.

Accommodation of the Lens
Accommodation is the automatic adjustment of the curvature of the lens by contraction
of the ciliary muscles to bring light rays in sharp focus on the retina. The lens is bicon-
vex. When an object is viewed at a distance of less than 20 ft, the lens must make an
adjustment (accommodation) to bring the image in focus. Contraction of the ciliary mus-
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cles causes the suspensory ligament to relax and the lens becomes thicker. A thicker
more convex lens causes the greater refraction of light for viewing close objects in
sharp focus.
Constriction of the pupil
Constriction of the pupil is caused by parasympathetic stimulation that causes the pupil-
lary constrictor muscles to contract. This is important for two reasons. One is that it re-
duces the amount of light that enters the posterior cavity. A reflexive constriction of the
pupil protects the retina from bright intense light. Two, reduced pupil diameter prevents
light rays from entering the posterior cavity through the periphery of the lens. Light com-
ing from the periphery cannot be brought into focus and causes blurred vision. Auto-
nomic pupil constriction and lens accommodation occur simultaneously.

Convergence of the eyes
Convergence of the eyes is the medial rotation of the eyeballs when focusing on a close
object. If the object is near the tip of the nose, the eyes will appear crossed. The eyes
must converge when viewing close objects because only then can light rays focus on
the same portions in both retinas. There is an area of the eye called the optic disc
where the fibers of the ganglion neurons emerge to form the optic nerve. This area is
called the blind spot because it is devoid of rod and cone cells ( photoreceptors).
The blind spot can be located by a simple visual test.

Visual Spectrum (color vision)
The eyes transduce the energy of the electromagnetic spectrum into nerve impulses.
We are capable of seeing only a limited portion of the whole spectrum. The visible
spectrum is between 400-700 nanometers (nm). Light of longer wavelengths (infrared)
do not have sufficient energy to excite photoreceptors. UV light, which has shorter wave
lengths and more energy than visible light, is filtered by the yellow color of the eye’s
lens. Certain insects (honeybees) and people who have had their lenses removed and
not replaced with protheses are capable of seeing the UV range.

Three different specialized cone cells permit color vision. Different photosensitive pig-
ments enable each type of cell to absorb light in the red, green or blue range. Color
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blindness is the inability to distinguish certain colors (most commonly, reds and greens
and occasionally blue & yellow ). Color blindness is a hereditary sex-linked defect.
It occurs in the general population at about 5-8% rate for men and 0.5% for women.

Neural pathways for vision & processing visual information
The nerve impulses from the rod and cone cells pass to the bipolar neurons and then
to the ganglion neurons where the axons of these neurons come together and form the
optic nerve. The optic nerve exits out of the posterior portion of the eye . The optic
nerves from each eye converge at a point called the optic chiasma. At this point half of
the optic nerve fibers cross to the opposite side. The other half does not. The optic tract
is a continuation of the optic nerves from the optic chiasma. As the optic tract enters the
brain some of the fibers terminate in the superior colliculi which is an area responsible
for body-eye coordination. Neural paths from the superior colliculi to motor neurons in
the spinal cord help mediate the startle response for sight, for example, of an unex-
pected intruder. Other nerves in the superior colliculi stimulate extrinsic ocular muscles (
eye movement). Two types of eye movement are controlled by the superior colliculi.
Tracking eye movements and quick jerky movements which occur while the eye ap-
pears still. These movements are thought to help visual acuity.
For visual information to have meaning, it must be associated with some past experi-
ence and integrated with information from other senses. Most of the higher processing
occurs in the visual cortex (occipital lobes) Some of this higher processing also occurs
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in the temporal lobes. The corpus callosum is also important in processing and integrat-
ing visual information since it allows the two hemispheres to communicate.
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Visual problems: Myopia & Hyperopia

Normal vision:
Focus point is at the fovea centralis
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Near sightedness: focal point is anterior to fovea centralis

Far sightedness: focal point is posterior to fovea centralis