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Descemet Membrane Folds

  • Author: Robert H Graham, MD; Chief Editor: Hampton Roy, Sr, MD  more...
Updated: Jun 23, 2016


The cornea[1] plays a crucial and vital role in the visual pathway. To maximize the visual potential of the eye, both the clarity of the cornea and the refractive power (curvature) are important. Any disturbance to the clarity or thickness of the cornea will affect its visual potential. The Descemet membrane and endothelial cells play a critical role. See the image below.

Diffuse illumination showing Descemet membrane fol Diffuse illumination showing Descemet membrane folds after surgery.


The cornea is composed of 5 discrete anatomical components, each with specific functions to achieve the goal of clarity and refractive potential. The outermost component, the epithelium, provides a smooth surface due to the interactions of cytoskeletal components and tear film matrix. It also serves an important protective barrier function. The Bowman layer[2] or membrane, the second layer moving in toward the eye, serves as the smooth adhesion layer for the basement membrane of the epithelial cells. This layer is not crucial for clarity or visual function since removal of the Bowman layer during photorefractive keratectomy does not negatively affect vision.

The corneal stroma makes up the majority of the width of the cornea. It is composed of collagen fibrils arranged in a regular pattern to allow light to enter and pass through without being diffracted or reflected. Inflammation manifesting as stromal infiltrates and/or stromal edema results in the interruption of the regular periodicity of the collagen matrix and decreased corneal clarity. Because the cornea is avascular, nutrients and wastes are delivered and deposited anteriorly via the tear film and external environment, internally via corneal nerves, and posteriorly via the aqueous humor.

The innermost layer of the cornea is the endothelial cell layer, a monolayer of polarized cells. They are arranged with their apical portion toward the aqueous humor in the anterior chamber. The endothelial cells are responsible for maintaining the desiccation of the stroma by actively removing water. The Descemet membrane is the specialized basement membrane of the endothelial cells positioned between the stroma and the endothelial cell layer. Any condition that causes inflammation of the cornea or the anterior chamber can cause Descemet membrane folds.




United States

Descemet membrane folds is common because it is associated with many inflammatory conditions of the eye.


The frequency is similar to that in the United States.


Morbidity due to decreased vision and pain exists.


No predisposition to race exists.


Descemet membrane folds affects women and men equally.


Descemet membrane folds affects all age groups with slower resolution of the folds in elderly persons.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Robert H Graham, MD Consultant, Department of Ophthalmology, Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, Arizona

Robert H Graham, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, Arizona Ophthalmological Society, American Medical Association

Disclosure: Partner received salary from Medscape/WebMD for employment.


Magdalena F Shuler, MD, PhD Consulting Staff, Retina Specialists, PA

Magdalena F Shuler, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, Florida Medical Association, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Christopher J Rapuano, MD Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University; Director of the Cornea Service, Co-Director of Refractive Surgery Department, Wills Eye Hospital

Christopher J Rapuano, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Ophthalmological Society, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists, International Society of Refractive Surgery, Cornea Society, Eye Bank Association of America

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for: Cornea Society, Allergan, Bausch & Lomb, Bio-Tissue, Shire, TearScience, TearLab<br/>Serve(d) as a speaker or a member of a speakers bureau for: Allergan, Bausch & Lomb, Bio-Tissue, TearScience.

Chief Editor

Hampton Roy, Sr, MD Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Hampton Roy, Sr, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American College of Surgeons, Pan-American Association of Ophthalmology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Fernando H Murillo-Lopez, MD Senior Surgeon, Unidad Privada de Oftalmologia CEMES

Fernando H Murillo-Lopez, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Descemet membrane folds after surgery.
Diffuse illumination showing Descemet membrane folds after surgery.
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