Schnabel cavernous degeneration: A vascular change of the aging eye

Luigi Giarelli, Giovanni Falconieri, J. Douglas Cameron, Alfred M. Pheley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Context. - Schnabel cavernous degeneration is a histologic finding originally attributed to glaucoma; however, its cause and significance have been controversial. Objective. - To determine the basic cause of the formation of cavernous spaces in the proximal optic nerve and its clinical significance. Methods. - A retrospective analysis of 4500 autopsy eyes processed for histologic evaluation between 1967 and 1991. Results. - Ninety-three (2.1% of eyes examined) cases of Schnabel cavernous optic atrophy were identified. The majority of the eyes were from women (81%). The mean age of the entire group was 88 years (reference range, 54-103 years). Severe vascular anomalies were present in 75% of the individuals. Cavernous degeneration was unilateral in 82% of the cases. Loss of ganglion cells and nerve fiber layer consistent with glaucoma was found in 23.7% of the individuals. Clinical information was available for 15 individuals (16%). Half of them were thought to have some clinical optic nerve damage; in the remainder, no specific optic disc abnormalities were noted. Histologic findings of arteriolosclerosis in the optic nerve circulation were common. The prevalence of glaucoma was low. Conclusions. - Schnabel cavernous optic atrophy appears to be a unilateral condition of elderly women with systemic vascular disease and few characteristic ocular features. Our data indicate that a chronic vascular occlusive disease of the proximal optic nerve is more involved in cavernous atrophic pathogenesis than is a sustained increase of intraocular pressure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1314-1319
Number of pages6
JournalArchives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2003
Externally publishedYes


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